Chieh Chieng, Author . Bloomsbury $22.95 (246p) ISBN 978-1-58234-533-8

Chieng chronicles three generations of the comically ill-fated Chinese-American Lum family in his whimsical debut. Ever since Grandpa Melvin defied family wishes by enlisting during WWII, the Lums have been cursed by untimely deaths. Living in suburban Orange County, Calif., certainly doesn't protect them from wayward ice cream trucks and E. coli–laced burgers. So when the certified hermit of the family, Uncle Bo—who escaped the suffocating grip of his mother's love by moving to Hong Kong—stops returning her regular form letters, which ask questions like "Do you always plan on waking up the next day?" Grandma Esther suspects the worst. Grandson Louis decides to take a much-needed sabbatical from his father, Sonny—who comforts himself with rap music while calling for revenge on the overtired medical student who crashed into his wife's car and killed her—by traveling to Hong Kong to look for his uncle. Though Uncle Bo's plight remains central, the novel adheres to no strict narrative structure; it dips in and out of the Lum family over the course of half a century, treating readers to delectable nibbles of zany family lore and conjectural genealogies stretching back centuries. Charmingly eccentric and refreshingly unstereotypical, the novel still suffers a bit from its dibs and dabs construction, which can make the story feel too slick to be satisfying. Agent, Dorian Karchmar. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 03/28/2005
Release date: 04/01/2005
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