Thursday 24 November 2011

Book ~ "Midnight at the Dragon Cafe" (2004) Judy Fong Bates

From Amazon ~ Su-Jen Chou, six, meets her elderly father for the first time when she and her beautiful mother leave China to join him in a small Ontario town in the 1950s. She sleeps between her parents in the same bed in a room upstairs from the restaurant. "They settled into an uneasy and distant relationship. Their love, their tenderness, they gave to me." Then her adult half-brother joins them and his mail-order bride is on her way. Su-Jen, now Annie, is soon comfortable in English and makes friends as she grows up Canadian; her mother remains stranded among strangers, unable to speak the language. But even at home, the unspeakable drowns out what is being said. True to the young girl's viewpoint, the plain first-person narrative tells an immigrant story with rare intensity, the anger and the sadness, as the adults fight about one thing while Su-Jen wants to shout about what they all pretend they do not know. The mounting suspense of family secrets makes this first novel a breathless read, even as the simple, beautiful words make you want to stop and read the sentences over and over again.

I borrowed this book from my local library. They had a table set up by the door that had books set in Toronto so I checked it out and thought this one sounded interesting.

The first couple of chapters weren't grabbing me. If I can't get into a book, I stop reading it and move onto the next one. I'm glad that I stuck with this one because I ended up really enjoyed it. I liked the writing style and the story.

The story is written in Annie's voice, from age six to twelve. She manages to fit in in the small town where they are the only Chinese family and become Canadian. Annie knows she's different from the other kids but she doesn't want to be and assumes she doesn't have to be different.

Her young and beautiful mom, on the other hand, is bitter about having to leave China and live in a small dead town in Ontario. She doesn't bother to fit in or learn English which just makes it worse for her.

Annie's elderly dad owns a Chinese restaurant. Because he feels the only way to get ahead is to work hard, that's all he does. Her older brother eventually moves from Owen Sound and buys into the restaurant and works with them. Their dad is very intent on getting him married off, whether that is with a "mail order bride" or using a matchmaker, and her brother resists.

The book doesn't tell you what adult Annie is doing. Did she stay in Irvine and help her brother and sister-in-law run the restaurant? Or did she accomplish what her parents had hoped for her ... go to university and get a good job. Did she married a Chinese guy as her family expected or did she avoid an arranged marriage and marry a white guy? It would be interesting to know ... but maybe we are better off just hoping for the best for this family.


LeeAnn said...

I read this book on the cruise and really enjoyed it.

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Teena in Toronto said...

I read "Sarah's Key" in March and liked it. Well, I liked Sarah's story but found Julia a bit pathetic. The movie just came out on DVD and is supposed to be good.