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Paper Daughter: A Memoir


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About the Author

M. Elaine Mar graduated from Harvard University in 1988. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Mar came here from Hong Kong at age five, lived for years between two cultures, and ended up at Harvard. Sounds like a nice addition to the burgeoning genre of Chinese American memoir.

"A moving account of a young woman's struggle to shape her identity and imagine a future she can call her own. Against the odds, M. Elaine Mar emerges whole, and the story she tells is unforgettable." -- A. Manette Ansay, author of "River Angel" and "Sister" "Elaine Mar tells a truly fresh story about the Chinese American experience. Imagine moving from the cosmopolitan city of Hong Kong to the white-bread environs of Denver and the cultural chaos that would create! I'm still thinking about the contrasting images of the fat Buddha sitting on top of the TV, of lunches of chicken bone marrow and dinners of Spaghetti's, and of Bible school lessons and a mother who continues to worship a pantheon of restless spirits." -- Lisa See, author of "Flower Net" and "On Gold Mountain" "Elaine Mar's writing is so immediate. I don't think I have ever read a better depiction of the pain resulting from being wrenched Out of one culture to be shot into another. No one who reads "Paper Daughter" will ever be able to look, at the workers in their favorite Chinese takeout in quite the same way again." -- Bruce Edward Hall, author of" Tea That Burns" "This intimate portrait of a young girl's journey from Hong Kong to Denver and eventually Harvard is so vividly drawn that the reader can almost taste the flavors of the foods prepared in the family's restaurant kitchen and feel the words of new language forming on the tongue. The richly textured prose demonstrates that Mar has become a virtuoso of the very language she struggled so hard to adopt." -- Linda Katherine Cutting, author of "Memory Slips"

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.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

Paper Daughter takes a different approach to that of the current crop of autobiographies by Chinese women. Rather than concerning itself with life in mainland China, it deals with the displacement of a young Chinese girl from her country of birth, and her difficulties adapting to a new life in America. Elaine was born in Hong Kong in 1966 into a poor family living in one tiny room in a tenement block. Her evocative language captures the sights, sounds and smells of the city's crowded streets and colourful marketplaces. In 1972, her family emigrated to America to live with an aunt in Denver. Her story then becomes one of trying to fit into an entirely new culture. She is given an American name and struggles to learn a new language. The usual dramas of adolescence are exacerbated by her `differentness' - being Chinese and poor - and leads her into conflict with her parents and their traditional Chinese beliefs. The book closes with her acceptance into Harvard University, and her hope that finally she has found a place where she belongs. Mar's simple narrative style makes Paper Daughter a highly readable account of the experience of being caught between two cultures. Fiona Jarratt is a bookseller at Black Mask Books, South Yarra (Vic). C. 1999 Thorpe-Bowker and contributors

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