Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
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.)
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Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
Fae Myenne Ng’s Bone continues in a tradition of Asian American novels by women that mediate between the demands of addressing issues of gender and of ethnicity. As a woman writing from a strongly patriarchal cultural heritage, Ng has had to create new strategies in order to express the paradox of resistance to and affirmation of her cultural heritage.
Bone relates the story of the Leong family, which has recently suffered the death by suicide of the Middle Girl, Ona. Ona committed suicide by jumping from one of Chinatown’s housing projects. She left no note, and although the police reported she was “on downers,” or depressants, there was no apparent cause for the suicide. The novel is narrated by the First Girl, Leila Fu Louie, Ona’s half-sister and the eldest daughter in the Leong family. Leila’s attempts to come to terms with her sister’s death, and thereby her own life, lead her to muse about incidents from their childhood and the everyday circumstances of the present. The novel unfolds in a series of stories that move from the present into the past.
The children of immigrants have often been called upon to translate for their parents. Their ability to switch from the language of their parents to the English of their birthplace makes them the bridge between the customs of the Old World and the expectations and demands of the New. This enormous responsibility can become an overwhelming burden. Although Leila...
(The entire section is 495 words.)