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Bone by Fae Myenne Ng New York Hyperion 1993 Fae Myenne Ngs masterly debut novel centers on three Chinese American sisters All are raised by the same mother and father Mah and Leon but each responds differently to family dynamics and the conflict between their San Francisco Chinatown community and American culture Each evolves into an individual woman with a separate destiny Leila the oldest daughter and the books narrator is bound most strongly to Chinatown though she drives a Karmann-Ghia and favors burritos Nina the youngest escapes - first through adolescent independence and later by leaving Chinatown altogether and moving 3000 miles away The middle daughter Ona commits suicide an event that shapes much of the book In a pattern that recalls many stories passed down orally Bone begins at the end as a newly-married Leila looks back on her family and communitys history Remembering the past gives power to the present she observes and it is the non-linear process of remembering that structures the novel The feelings encompassed in memories dictate the flow of events Whole years escape Leilas notice but she remembers every detail of the minutes just after she learned of Onas death how the light was aggressive and people moved with the jerky motion of puppets Her memories easily crystallize into the tales - of disasters celebrations departures and reunions - that compose a family history Some of Ngs best writing comes in Leilas observations on the way language works in a bilingual culture I have a whole different vocabulary of feeling in English than in Chinese Leila notes and not everything can be translated Ng seems to revel not only in the joy of language but also in its fear and confusion She chooses her words deliberately so as to convey their full force For example Leila observes that its impossible for her to win an argument in Chinese and she recalls how she hated serving as her
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