Paper Daughter: A Memoir

M. Elaine Mar, Author HarperCollins Publishers $23 (292p) ISBN 978-0-06-018293-9
Asked by her third grade teacher to tell the class ""what it's like being Chinese,"" Mar stumbled for a moment and answered, ""Um, I like it, I guess."" Her plainly told memoir, which recounts her passage from life in a crowded Hong Kong tenement to being a Harvard graduate, is the longer answer to her teacher's na ve question. Opening the book with her first memory (the crunch of chicken bones between her teeth), Mar goes on to depict, with a strained simplicity, her arrival in Denver at the age of five and the difficulties of dealing with the competing demands of her traditionally minded parents and her new American peers. For Mar, being from Hong Kong is not all firecrackers and dragon dances, though she assures her classmates that these are weekly pleasures there. In elementary school, her greatest desire is to ""obscure"" her ""foreignness."" Nightly, she peers into the mirror, pinching at her face, hoping to shape her nose into something narrower and more ""American."" Rather than delve into the motivations of those around her, Mar often attempts to preserve the confusion she experienced as a child: ""I didn't understand anything about America. In Hong Kong, everybody liked me. Now no one did."" The result is a curiously shallow look at her life. She closes the book with an epilogue summarizing her years at college during which the breach between her and her parents widened. Attending Harvard, she concludes, was her own irreversible immigration. Agents, Lane Zachary and Todd Schuster. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/02/1999
Release date: 08/01/1999
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