Friday, March 7, 2008

BOOK: The End of East by Jen Sookfong Lee

The End of East by Jen Sookfong Lee

Canadian Book Challenge, BC book

Vancouver's Chinatown is the setting of this family history chronicling Sammy Chan's ancestors. The novel starts with Sammy's return to her mother's house, but the family's story begins with the immigration of Seid Quan from China. I don't think Canada has much to be proud about for its treatment of Chinese immigrants in the beginning of this century. Shew Lin becomes his wife, but stays in China with their children. Seid Quan works and works at a job he hates to send money to his family in China. He eventually saves enough to bring his son, Pon Man, and very eventually, his wife. Pon Man gets a wife from China, Siu Sang, and they have five girls, one of whom is Sammy.

The struggle of immigrants to build a new life, but still wanting their old life results in this family being very unhappy. Shew Lin and Siu Sang in particular, seemed very, very unhappy. Or at least, only happy when they were making others miserable around them. The family dynamics were complex, but no one is fulfilled or content, everyone worried what the others think. The novel follows the story of this family, but not told chronologically. It's a quiet novel, a character study, that was interesting, full of life, death, and all the interactions in between. It let me see a culture and experience that I am not at all familiar with. The Chinese culture is not very large in PEI, present, but not hugely.

I liked how the book was structured, each character leading a narrative, but we never really get into any particular character's emotions and thoughts, at least not for long. I didn't have a character I rooted for, except maybe Pon Man, who was caught in the classic conflict between his wife and mother, but he was detached from his father and there was much disappointment between them as well. This was a book about relationships and families, and while told from the experience in Chinatown, has parallels everywhere.


  1. There's a few other minority groups Canada needn't be all that proud of their treatment, too.

    I'd love to read this book.

  2. I may have to add this one to my list for the next Canadian Challenge.


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