The Jade Peony and the memoir Paper Shadows ), three-year-old Kiam-Kim Chen j"/>

All That Matters

Wayson Choy, Author
Wayson Choy, Author . Other Press $16.95 (425p) ISBN 978-1-59051-215-9
Reviewed on: 11/06/2006
Release date: 02/01/2007
Paperback - 432 pages - 978-0-385-25777-0
Hardcover - 423 pages - 978-0-385-25759-6
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In Choy's lovingly detailed novel (following The Jade Peony and the memoir Paper Shadows ), three-year-old Kiam-Kim Chen journeys from China to Vancouver in 1925 with his father and his grandmother, Poh-Poh (a former Chinese slave girl). As he matures, he gains a stepmother, an adopted brother and two stepsiblings. Poh-Poh's unsettling stories of kitchen gods and ghosts provide vivid reminders of the Old China the family left behind. Set pieces form the novel's core, like Poh-Poh's elaborate preparations for her mah-jongg party when Kiam is eight. That's when he first encounters Jenny Chong, a "tiger" girl with a fierce temper (and, eventually, the good looks to match it). When Poh-Poh dies, Old China's ghosts really do come back—at least the ghost of Poh-Poh (who haunts Kiam's stepbrother, Sekky, so intensely that Kiam's embarrassed father hires an exorcist). As Kiam grows up, the relationship among Kiam, Jenny and Jack O'Connor, the Irish-Catholic boy next door (whom Poh-Poh had barred from their house) gets tangled in the complexities of WWII and the ethnic politics of the neighborhood. Choy's novel captures the spirit in which exile turns into assimilation. (Feb.)