EAT EVERYTHING BEFORE YOU DIE: A Chinaman in the Counterculture

Jeffery Paul Chan, Author . Univ. of Washington $22.50 (297p) ISBN 978-0-295-98436-0

A professor of Asian-American studies weaves a knotty, dynamic tale of Christopher Columbus Wong, a grown orphan, and his quest to uncover his origins and process his life experiences: growing up in San Francisco's Chinatown in the 1950s, going to university during the Vietnam War, eloping with a Chinese immigrant seeking a green card and then taking up with a passionate hippie. Colorful characters float in a whirlwind of American counterculture. There's dying Uncle Lincoln, who might be Wong's father; Peter, his gay older brother with "a quick mouth ready to deal in two languages"; the inimitable Auntie Mary, known to kill pigeons from her balcony with "slingshot frozen peas"; and Wong's father-figure, Reverend Candlewick, who was defrocked for pedophilia. Wong describes Wick as a "messiah... who could alchemize race, culture, politics, sex, and rock 'n' roll"—a feat that is quite possibly the ambition of this very ambitious novel. But the non-linear and muddled narrative obfuscates the plot, even as it makes sense coming from a narrator so lost. Chan writes with sumptuous eloquence about food, and the moments in which boundaries between sibling, lover, mother and father shift and break down are deeply moving. This is a bumpy but vigorous read. (Oct.)

FYI: Chan co-edited two anthologies of Asian-American writers, Aiiieeeee! and The Big Aiieeeee!

Reviewed on: 09/20/2004
Release date: 10/01/2004
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