cover image Ingratitude


Ying Chen. Farrar Straus Giroux, $20 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-374-17554-2

Nominated for Canada's Governor General's Award and Prix Femina, the third novel (the first to be published in English) by Chinese-Qu becois Chen is a first-person narrative from beyond the grave: the tale of a 25-year-old woman from a family of traditional Chinese immigrants who plans to stage her own death in order to make her mother suffer. The daughter loathes her mother for giving her a life she never wanted, then robbing her of the freedom to live it for herself. ""The day I was born was already the day I was defeated,"" Yan-Zi explains. After tormenting Yan-Zi through her childhood by competing with her for the attention of her aloof, ineffectual father, Yan-Zi's mother tries desperately to find her a husband but rejects the man Yan-Zi falls for. Yan-Zi responds to these tyrannies, petty and large, by being ""faultless,"" outwardly worthy of the mother whom she knows she can never please. What redeems this long J'accuse from adolescent fantasy is Yan-Zi's death (which she had planned with sleeping pills but achieves accidentally by running into the path of a truck), and the peculiar afterlife where she learns that ""You can't turn away from your mother without turning away from yourself.... Fallen leaves return to their roots... traitors to their mothers will continue to be vagabonds, whether dead or alive."" With sure-footed prose and a constant movement toward wisdom, no matter how bitter, Chen restrains her material and lends the work an oddly quiet dignity. (July)