Fae Ng’s novel Bone chronicles the fictional history of a family of Chinese immigrants living in San Francisco’s Chinatown from the 1960’s to the 1990’s. The main characters are three sisters, American by birth and environment, struggling to make their ways to peace as persons, women, and Chinese Americans. The central event of the story is the death of the second daughter, Ona, who has recently killed herself by jumping from the thirteenth floor of a building while on drugs.
The novel itself is divided into fourteen chapters, all simply but beautifully written and all narrated by the older sister Leila, to whom the story belongs most. It is she who tells and retells, from different though not contradictory perspectives, the story of her family and of her sister’s suicide. Most of the action is in the present, yet Leila’s memory frequently wanders to past events that are recounted in detail.
The book begins at some point after the recent death of Ona. Leila has just returned from New York, where she has married Mason Louie, another Chinese American from San Francisco, without her parents’ permission or foreknowledge. She is seeking Leon Leong, her stepfather, to inform him of the marriage; oddly, it is not her mother whom she wishes to tell.
Events of the family’s history are not given in chronological order. Particular events are referred to in conversation or are recorded in the narrator’s mind as she revisits those parts of the family’s struggles in America that are important to her. Leila provides various interpretations and gives the perspectives of others in the family.
Leila’s best and most meaningful relationship is with her stepfather, who somehow comes to represent America itself. Leila, who is employed by the local school system as a “community relations expert,” does succeed in coming to terms with herself, her family, her Chinese ancestry, and her American identity.
As Leila reports her marriage to other family members, the events of their respective lives are told in turn. This organizational method provides the structure of the novel.
Leon’s story is given first. He is a collector of junk, a...
(The entire section is 907 words.)