Bone, the novel by Fae Myenne Ng (ihng), depicts a cultural divide between her own assimilated generation and that of her Chinese working-class parents, who had immigrated from China and are unable to read the novel that is a tribute to their own heroic struggles in a new country. After growing up in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Ng acquired an excellent education at the University of California, Berkeley, and at Columbia University, where she earned an MFA. Her first novel took ten years to write, during which time she supported herself as a waitress and by doing temporary work as well as with fellowships from foundations such as the National Endowment for the Arts. Like Leila, the narrator of Bone, Ng is a well-educated, modern young woman who also understands her parents and their world of manual labor. Mah, the strong-willed mother of the Leong family, is a poorly paid, overworked garment worker. Leon, the father, holds down a series of dead-end jobs that include janitor, dishwasher, houseboy, and laundry worker. They are a couple who work their fingers to the bone to provide for their daughters.
Ng’s language in the novel indicates the frugality of the Chinese workers and their plain, harsh lives. Ng also uses English in such a way as to suggest the cadence of the Chinese language, thus establishing the bicultural quality of the novel linguistically as well as thematically. Ng thereby also commemorates her heritage.
Bone is a tribute to the generation of Chinese men who sacrificed their personal happiness for the sake of their families. Ng grew up seeing old Chinese men living alone and impoverished in single-room-occupancy hotels in Chinatown. These men—laborers who had come to the United States to work gold mines, build railroads, and develop California agriculturally—became men...
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