Friday, March 06, 2015

Hunger: A Novella and Stories by Lan Samantha Chang

I stumbled upon Lan Samantha Chang a couple years back, and I reviewed her novel, Inheritance.  I have now picked up her first book, Hunger¸ which consist of a novella and five stories.  Normally, I don’t care for, what I call “ethnic fiction,” but a friend urged me to try Chang.  I thoroughly enjoyed the novel of seven generations of women, who lived, struggled and survived through all the turmoil in 20th century China.  I hardly knew it was set in China, I felt that comfortable there.  Hunger does the same thing for me.

According to the author’s bio, Chang was born and raised in Appleton, Wisconsin.  She graduated from Yale University and the University of Iowa.  She has been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant and fellowships from Stanford University.  She divides her time between Northern California and Princeton, New Jersey, where she is a Fellow in the Humanities.  Hunger has won numerous awards.

The collection begins with the title story, and it certainly deserves top billing.  Min leaves what was then the comfortable environment of her native land, China, at the urging of her mother who wants her daughter to have a better life in America.  She struggles to learn English, but she never really masters the language.  Nin works in a Chinese restaurant, and one day, a handsome man, Tian, walks in, but leaves without his hat.  Min hides it, so she can be the one to return it.  She decides she will marry this man.  They get married and move to Brooklyn, where Tian teaches music at a local college.  He hopes for a professorship so he can adequately support his family.  They have two children, Anna, who turns out to be a disappointment, and Ruth, who, while a talented violinist, is also a rebel.  The family struggles to adapt to their new land, but pitfalls abound.  The story is about memory, loyalty, separation, and respect for elders, but their new homeland conspires against the old ways. 

The family “hungers” for more than food.  Min narrates, “[Ruth] stayed in public school with Anna, and continued after Anna left for college.  She kept practicing with Tian.  But she had developed a sudden and brilliant talent for upsetting him.  So many years of pleasing him had given her this ability.  With me she remained obedient.  I prided myself on this, until I recognized it as an emblem of indifference.  My pale love would never interest her.  Tian was her true opponent, and I was only a moth that fluttered around the brilliant bulb of her rebellion” (74). 

The remaining tales fluctuate among a variety of Chinese folktales, modern yarns, and a story of a healer and a charmer.

All in all, Lan Samantha Chang’s collection, Hunger, is a very satisfying collection of tales.  She has another novel, I think I’ll take a look at that soon.  5 stars.

--Chiron, 2/24/15

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