World and Town, by Gish Jen

Hattie Kong, a descendant both of  Confucius and an American missionary, retires to a small town, mourning the deaths of her husband and best friend.  Her quiet life there soon collides with immigrant neighbors escaping a painful past, an ex-lover, and a variety of town issues and residents.  Everyone is starting over or struggling to adapt: culturally, religiously, and in their relationships. While the story takes place in New England, for Hattie the backstory is in China, where she grew up near her father’s family.  And for the Chhungs, the “world” is Pol Pot’s Cambodia–a tragedy that their teenage children don’t understand, because they want only to be American.  It’s a novel about identity and community, isolation and survival.  The expert way Jen weaves together the different voices, points of view, and contrasts makes for a wonderfully rich, funny, and moving story.

RATING: **** Very, very good
Reviewed by: stc

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