Book Review: Intrigue in the House of Wong by Amy S. Kwei

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Intrigue in the House of Wong by Amy S. Kwei

A Early Reader/Teen/YA Novel published by Tats Publishing (06/01/2008)

 

Summary:

 Wendy Wong and her close-knit Chinese family move from familiar Chinatown to the Upper East Side so that she can attend a posh private school through partial scholarship. The Wongs go into debt purchasing the restaurant under their apartment. A stop work order on the renovation and sketchy thugs hanging out in the alley threaten to shut down the business, but the Wongs, along with their newfound friends and allies, will stop at nothing to save the House of Fortune. Their plans almost fall apart when one of their friends’ lives is threatened and Wendy is torn between obediently following her family and doing what she thinks is best.

 

Keywords:

 Chinese-American, Chinatown, culture, understanding, being uprooted, teen issues

 

My Review:

Wendy is not a complex character, she is just going through that period of time when she is confused about who she is and how she relates tot the world. Her Chinese culture butts heads with her new American attitude and she is forced to choose between the two in some circumstances. “Wendy never dreamed of doing anything shocking or scandalous.” (Location 90).

This book highlights the lives and feelings of Chinese living in present day America, their trials and tribulations and the way they are perceived by others. “…the Chinese were unwelcome guests, and the American Chinese would be foolish to act as if they were equal citizens.” (Location 575). Wendy herself feels like she is straddling two worlds and ultimately she feels alienated from both.

This book starts out slow, but soon progresses into a thought-provoking stance on cultural integration and how some people are not willing to change, not ready to change, or can’t change to fit in. Wendy learns that it is hard to be in a new place with new people who don’t know or understand where she is coming from. Not everyone is born equal, therefore there cannot truly be equality in this world, but you can try to treat everyone equally. Wendy comments that “Yeah, when you’re not on your guard, everyone seems to slip into group think.” (Locations 1572-1573) and that “In times of mass hysteria, people can forget to be human.” (Locations 1413-1414).

Kwei gives the teens slang that seems out of place, just like how Wendy and her friend Debbie sometimes feel out of place. The two teens want to fit in, but even their speech is not normal. The style of narration in the book is even subject to the semi-halting lilt of a young teenager’s emerging style and of one experiencing sudden change.

This is a book for teens and so the villains are softer and more subdued than the average bad guy you read about. These villains reveal their plans directly to the kids and act in stereotypical villanous fashion straight out of a Disney movie.

 

This novel was published by Tats Publishing 06/01/2008 and is available on Amazon here.

 

TLDR Star Rating: 3.50

 

Links for more information:

Goodreads

Tats Publishing

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Book Review: A Concubine for the Family: A Family Saga in China by Amy Kwei

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A Concubine for the Family: A Family Saga in China by Amy Kwei

A Historical Fiction Novel published by Tats Publishing (August 2, 2012)

 

Summary:

 The Huang family is without an heir… In early to mid 19th century China, this has grave consequences for the old traditions. Purple Jade has the humility, dignity, and pragmatism to bring an heir to the Huangs in any culturally justified means available: a Concubine for the Family.

 

Keywords:

 Family, Tradition, Honor, Respect, Dignity, China 1937-1941, cultural shock, East Ocean Devils, West Ocean Devils, Western philosophies

 

My Review:

The violence in this book was softened. The cultural shock was softened. The bad guy was ambiguous. Amy Kwei chose to soften the blow of the violence in this book by using a mellowing narrative voice. I thought it was fitting for the author to soften her words and perspective (softening the truth perhaps), because the characters and persons in the book showed considerable restraint. Where you or I would lash out in voice or action, Purple Jade held her peace and showed that she was considering both sides to a situation (in her thoughts). The author describes this as a concept of fixing yourself before fixing the world: “By cultivating oneself, we can regulate the family; by regulating the family, we can govern the state; by governing the state, we can bring peace on earth. When order and kindness direct the world, heaven will be pleased.” (Page 326). What a wonderful concept that everyone should adopt, at least in part, and the world would be a better place.

Perhaps the bad guy was not a single person, but actions of people or actions of a country. Perhaps it is fate or old traditions. Perhaps it is the concept of war. Kwei gives the reader much to ponder by not handing us a simple and easy character to despise and blame. The characters are just as much prone to their fate as we are in real life.

I get a little lost in the politics of a country’s history I know nothing about and a country’s culture I am quite unfamiliar with, but that’s what makes this book so fascinating. Kwei describes the proper way to eat and what is proper to eat. She describes when and who speaks, political gains and favors, and the halting way of speaking (as if it’s been translated just for our eyes). I am peeking into a world I would normally not have insight into and it is described in enough detail to give me a taste without having overwhelming flavor.

I very much enjoyed Kwei’s descriptions of cultural traditions and the differences between modern living and traditions of the past. The concept of “saving face” was intriguing, as was the struggle between culture and shame.

“If we can agree with their concept that each person is endowed with thoughts and feelings worthy of singular attention, more opportunities and developments would surely follow.” (Page 298).

 

I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys historical fiction with a political element, culturally rich stories, novels featuring Chinese in China, or a novel with a strong female lead.

This novel was published by Tats Publishing August 2, 2012 and is available on Amazon here.

 

TLDR Star Rating: 4.50

 

Links for more information:

Goodreads

Tats Publishing

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