02 August 2010

The Lucky Ones; Mae Ngai

The Lucky Ones: One Family and the Extraordinary Invention of Chinese AmericaThe Lucky Ones: One Family and the Extraordinary Invention of Chinese America by Mae Ngai
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This story of Joseph and Mary Tape (to use their American names) and their family is one that we rarely hear: how the Chinese came to America and became part of our country's melting pot. We've all heard about coolie labor during the gold rush and the building of the railroad, or those Chinese prostitutes, but what about the others? The vast majority that weren't either, but wanted to have what Euro-Americans had? The Tapes may not have been unique, but their story does illustrate this chapter in our history quite nicely.

There are two main problems with this book, however. The author became interested in the Tape's saga after hearing about Tape v. Hurley, a court case in which the Tapes sued to get access to American public education for their daughter. Given that starting point, one would think that there would be more about the case in the book. Instead, it's buried inside, with little real discussion and/or analysis. I felt a little as though I were some 50 years in our future, reading a biography of the Brown family in which Brown v. Board of Education was dispensed with in a few pages.

The other problem is the over reliance on "perhaps" and other suppositions. If you don't know, fine. But sentences that start "Yet it must have been awkward..." and "What did Mary think about..." with nothing to give you a sense that the author has anything concrete to go on are problematic.

In short, an important story ill-served by the author (and editor).

ARC provided by publisher.

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