by Fae Myenne Ng, Fae M. Ng

Hardcover(1st ed)

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Set in San Francisco's Chinatown, a novel of family ties chronicles the Leongs--a Chinese-American family caught between the traditions of their ancestry and the realities of life in America.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781562829445
Publisher: Hachette Books
Publication date: 01/01/1993
Edition description: 1st ed
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 5.75(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Fae Myenne Ng was born in San Francisco, and lives in Northern California and New York City. Her short stories have appeared in Harper's and other magazines, and have been widely anthologized.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

We were a family of three girls. By Chinese standards, that wasn't lucky. In Chinatown, everyone knew our story. Outsiders jerked their chins, looked at us, shook their heads. We heard things.

"A failed family. That Dulcie Fu. And you know which one: bald Leon. Nothing but daughters."

Leon told us not to care about what people said. "People talking. People jealous." He waved a hand in the air. "Five sons don't make one good daughter."

I'm Leila, the oldest, Mah's first, from before Leon. Ona came next and then Nina. First, Middle, and End Girl. Our order of birth marked us and came to tell more than our given names.

Here's another bone for the gossipmongers. On vacation recently, visiting Nina in New York, I got married. I didn't marry on a whim--don't worry, I didn't do a green-card number. Mason Louie was no stranger. We'd been together four, five years, and it was time.

Leon was the first person I wanted to tell, so I went looking for him in Chinatown. He's not my real father, but he's the one who's been there for me. Like he always told me, it's time that makes a family, not just blood.

Mah and Leon are still married, but after Ona jumped off the Nam, Leon moved out. It was a bad time. Too much happened on Salmon Alley. We don't talk about it. Even the sewing ladies leave it alone. Anyway, it works out better that Mah and Leon don't live in the same place. When they're not feuding about the past, Leon visits Mah, helps her with the Baby Store, so they see enough of each other.

Leon's got a room at that old-man hotel on Clay Street, the San Fran. There's a toilet and bath on each floor andthe lobby's used as a common room. No kitchen. I gave Leon a hot plate but he likes to have his meals either down the block at Uncle's Cafe or over at the Universal Cafe.

Leon's got the same room he had when he was a bachelor going out to sea every forty days. Our Grandpa Leong lived his last days at the San Fran, so it's an important place for us. In this country, the San Fran is our family's oldest place, our beginning place, our new China. The way I see it, Leon's life's kind of made a circle.

In the mornings, Leon likes to sit in the lobby timing the No-55 Sacramento buses, he likes to hassle the drivers if they're not on time. They humor him, call him Big Boss. It was just after eight when I got to the San Fran, but the lobby was empty. There was a thin comb of morning light on the dusty rose-colored sofa, and the straight-back chairs were still pushed up against the wall, at their tidy night angles. When I pulled the accordion doors of the elevator back, they unfolded into a diamond pattern with a loud clang. I yanked the lever back and held it there until the number 8 floated by on the wheel contraption Leon called the odometer; then I jerked the handle forward and the elevator stopped level to the ninth floor. Leon's room was at the end of the corridor, next to the fire escape.

"Leon?" I knocked. "Leon!" I jiggled the doorknob and it turned. Leon forgets the simplest things--like locking the door: another reason it's better he doesn't live with Mah.

Without Leon, the room looked dingier. There was an old-man smell, and junk all over. Leon was a junk inventor. Very weird stuff. An electric sink. Cookie-tin clocks. Clock lamps. An intercom hooked up to a. cash register hooked up to the alarm system. When they lived together, Mah put up with it all: his screws, his odd beginnings of projects scattered all over her kitchen table, on their bedside. But the day after he shipped out on a voyage, she threw everything into the garbage. She called it his lop sop. But that didn't stop Leon, who continued inventing on the long voyages. On the ships, his bunk was his only space, so every invention was compact. Leon made a miniature of everything: fan, radio, rice cooker. And he brought them all home.

Leon was a collector, too. Stacks of takeout containers, a pile of aluminum tins. Plastic bags filled with packs of ketchup and sugar. White cans with red letters, government-issue vegetables: sliced beets, waxy green beans, squash. His nightstand was a red restaurant stool cluttered with towers of Styrofoam cups, stacks of restaurant napkins, and a cup of assorted fast-food straws. Metal hangers dangled from the closet doorknob. On the windowsill were bunches of lotus leaves and coils of dried noodles. There were several tin cans: one held balls of knotted red string, another brimmed with tangles of rubber bands. The third was ashy with incense punks. Beyond these tins, I could see Colt Tower.

When I visited Leon, he'd make me coffee, boiling water in a pan and straining the grounds like an herbal tea, and then he'd show me every project he had in progress: alarm clocks, radios, lamps, and tape recorders. He'd read to me from his newspaper piles: The Chinese Times, The China Daily News, Wah Kue, World News, Ming Bao. Leon snipped and saved the best stories for his private collection: Lost Husbands, Runaway Wives, Ungrateful Children.

Leon kept his private stash of money, what he called his Going-Back-to-China fund, in a brown bag tucked into an old blanket of Ona's. I called it his petty-cash bag. I slipped a red envelope inside.

Bone. Copyright © by Fae M. Ng. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

Edmund White

This is the inside view of Chinatown, one never presented before so eloquently. Sae Myenne Ng is a writer with no pretensions and enormous talent....A full-teaming world comes alive under her pen.

Michiko Kakutani

"An incantory first novel....[Ms. Ng] is blessed with a poet's gift for metaphor and a reporter's eye for detail."

Tillie Olsen

With the magic of art, this freshly beautiful, new young writer has taken strands of lives and experiences central to our understandings of our country, our time -- for many of us, ourselves -- and at a passionate, understanding, mature comprehension, has interwoven into one seamless and luminous book -- to read and reread.

Seattle Times/Post Intelligence

"Brutal and poignant, dreamy and gritty, specific to its place and resonant in its implication about what it means to be an American."

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Bone 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
janeajones on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The children of immigrants have often been called upon to translate for their parents. Their ability to switch from the language of their parents to the English of their birthplace makes them the bridge between the customs of the old world and the expectations and demands of the new. Not only are these children faced with a generation gap, but they must also cope with a cultural gap. This enormous responsibility can become an overwhelming burden. Fae Myenne Ng's first novel, Bone, confronts and explores this responsibility and burden. Ng, who grew up in San Francisco, is herself the daughter of Chinese immigrants and in an interview explained the title of her novel: "Bone is what lasts. And I wanted to honor the quality of endurance in the immigrant spirit." Bone relates the story of the Leong family which has recently suffered the death by suicide of the Middle Girl, Ona. Ona committed suicide by jumping off the M floor of one of Chinatown's housing projects--she left no note; and although the police reported she was on downers, there was no apparent cause for the suicide. The novel is narrated by "The First Girl," Leila Fu Louie, Ona's half-sister and the eldest daughter in the Leong family. Lei's attempts to come to terms with her sister's death, and thereby her own life, lead her to muse about incidents from their childhood and the everyday circumstances of the present. The story unfolds in a series of stories that move from the present into the past. As the book opens, Lei has just returned from New York and must tell her mother that she married Mason while there. The conversation jumps between languages:"I went up to Mah and started out in Chinese, 'I want to tell you something.'"Mah looked up, wide eyed, expectant."I switched to English, 'Time was right, so Mason and I just went to City Hall. We got married there....In New York....Nina was my witness.'"Mah grunted, a huumph sound that came out like a curse. My translation was: Disgust, anger. There's power behind her sounds. Over the years I've listened and rendered her Chinese grunts into English words." Lei's attempt at accomodation by approaching her mother in Chinese falls away in the American reality of her deed; she must speak in English. Her mother counters in her ancient language, one that goes back to primitive grunts, to express her displeasure and provoke guilt in her daughter. Not only does Mah have a Chinese vocabulary to draw on, but she can invoke the universal language of motherhood. Lei survives the encounter because she chooses not to retaliate against her mother by reminding her of her own failed marriages; instead, she reaches across the divide of affection by shifting the focus to Mason."'You don't like Mason, is that it?' "'Mason,' Mah spoke his name soft, 'I love.'For love she used a Chinese word: to embrace, to hug."I stepped around the boxes, opened my arms and hugged Mah."Although Lei must continually face the chasm between her parents' expectations and her own reality, her ability to build a bridge of translation is grounded in her strong need and appreciation for the family. Her youngest sister, Nina, the End Girl, refuses to shoulder this burden of translation. Her rebellion has caused her to move to New York, far away from San Francisco's Chinatown where her parents live. Although she returns for Ona's funeral and later tries to alleviate her mother's grief by taking her on a trip back to China, she declares her independence by refusing to lie in order to appease her parents. She bluntly announces to them that she has had an abortion.But it is the self imposed silence of Ona, that is at the center of the novel. Ona, the middle child, is caught in the middle; she learned too well how to keep secrets. Fae Myenne Ng, does not seek to solve the mystery of Ona's death in this novel; it is a mystery that is unsolvable; rather, through the narrative voice of Lei, she explores the languages and silences of love, grief, assimilati
beccabowmeow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a story about a Chinese-American family living in San Francisco's Chinatown. The story is told through the oldest daughter, Lei. She cronicles the families journey, as well as her personal journey to find answers to Ona's, her sister, suicide. This would be good for people learning to understand the life and culture of Chinese-Americans. Cautions: There are drugs, a PG-13 sex scene (if that), and adultery.Recommended reading level: 9th grade plus
mysteena on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story of a Chinese-American family, this books tells the struggles of dealing with the complex relationships of family. It was written chronologically backwards, which took me a few chapters to realize. However, it was an very unique tactic, which made for an interesting read. I originally picked it up to use for my term paper on mother-daughter relationships in Asian American literature. I quickly realized it wasn't going to be helpful for my paper, but I still enjoyed reading it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fae shines a spotlight on the little dramas of everyday life growing up Chinese-American in Chinatown, San Francisco. She shows how a seemingly normal and simple existence is anything but run of the mill. Without being melodramatic, she moved me to empathize with these characters who were nothing like me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Fae Ng has written a very courageous novel with brilliant insights into the lives of first generation Chinese living here in the U.S. Through her characters, we see the complicated spoken and hidden demands that are made on children by their parents. We witness the quiet destruction that can come about when these demands are too great. Oftentimes, parents do not know the effects of this type of 'love'. There is truth here. We unravel the story like an onion. Time is pealed away to reveal the many sides of 'truth'. We taste the meat, as we make way to the essence or the very'bone' of our core. This book provided me many valuable insights into my own existance. And why I view things and people the way I do. Ms. Ng gave me 'validation' , and for this I will always remain thankful ! If you are Chinese American, run out and buy this book today! Write me and tell me what you thought...........
Guest More than 1 year ago
With it's spare, carefully woven narrative and backward-moving structure, Fae Myenne Ng's novel is one of the best-written Asian American novels out there. I also appreciated the novel's focus. Unlike other Asian American fiction that seem intent on satisfying the mainstream audience's thirst for ethnicity as a sort of exotic travelogue, 'Bone' avoids overexplanation, aims for higher goals, focusing instead on the larger human story, of which ethnicity is only a part.