World and Town by Gish Jen (review by Andrew R. ’17)

World and TownWorld and Town by Gish Jen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gish Jen is a wittier Amy Tan: her novels and stories, usually told through the perspective of first- or second-generation Chinese immigrants to America, fearlessly tackle religious issues, the mystery of death, and the folly of American culture, all without forsaken the signature lightness and incisiveness of her prose. World and Town is split into five narrative sections. One follows Sophy Chung, the daughter of Cambodian immigrants, who takes refuge in fundamentalist Christianity to escape her past sins; another follows Everett, the scorned and scornful backwoods lover of a born-again evangelist. The majority of the book, though, is from the perspective of Hattie (Hăi dì) Kong, an aging immigrant whose existence in the Southern town of Riverlake is somehow more American than any of its native inhabitants. As Hattie struggles with her religion and heritage (and messes with those of her neighbors—she can’t help herself), Riverlake becomes so vivid and complex that it feels as real as life to the reader, and sometimes realer. While Sophy’s and Everett’s narrative voices were not always convincing, World and Town was as a whole engaging, even addictive. Strongly recommended for readers who enjoy having their beliefs challenged and their prejudices called out. – Andrew R. ’17

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