Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
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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Fae Myenne Ng’s writing depicts a cultural divide between her assimilated generation and that of her Chinese parents. Reared in San Francisco’s Chinatown by working-class parents who immigrated from China, Ng acquired an excellent education, receiving degrees from the University of California at Berkeley and an M.F.A. from Columbia University. Bone, her first novel, took her ten years to write, during which time she supported herself as a waitress and temporary worker, as well as by a grant from the National Foundation for the Arts. As does Leila, the narrator of the novel, Ng is an educated woman who understood her parents’ working-class world. In the novel, the Chinese mother is a poorly paid, overworked garment worker. The father holds down a series of dead-end jobs that include janitor, dishwasher, houseboy, and laundry worker. The couple have worked their fingers to the bone to provide for their daughters. Bone is a tribute to the family’s father, who represents a generation of Chinese men who sacrificed their personal happiness for the sake of their families. Ng’s inspiration was the old Chinese men living alone and impoverished in single room occupancy hotels in Chinatown. Chinese America’s bachelor society came to America to work the gold mines, to build the railroads, and to develop California agriculturally. These immigrants became men without roots.
The novel also depicts the conflicts of the family’s three daughters with their old-fashioned parents. There is the middle daughter Ona, whose suicide suggests she could not adjust to American society and maintain her identity as a dutiful Chinese daughter. Nina, the youngest daughter, affirms a modern identity and escapes to New York City. Leila, the eldest daughter, is a complicated combination of the old Chinese ways and new American cultural patterns. As does Nina, the rebellious daughter, Ng moved to New York City. Leila, with her ability to assimilate the new while keeping faith with the past, is the daughter who most mirrors Ng’s identity as an Asian American. Ng’s work adds to the tradition of the immigrant novel.
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Eder, Richard. “A Gritty Story of Assimilation.” Los Angeles Times, January 14, 1993, p. E5. Places Bone in the tradition of ethnic estrangement and assimilation.
Jones, Louis B. “Dying to Be an American.” The New York Times Book Review, February 7, 1993, pp. 7, 9. Discusses Bone within the context of the literature of assimilation.
Kakutani, Michiko. “Building on the Pain of a Past in China.” The New York Times, January 29, 1993, p. C26. Praises Ng’s literary gifts.
Stetson, Nancy. “Honoring Her Forebears.” Chicago Tribune, April 4, 1993, p. C12. Discusses the autobiographical nature of Bone.
Wong, Sau-Ling Cynthia. Reading Asian-American Voices: From Necessity to Extravagance. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993. Places Ng in the context of Asian American writing, ethnic relations in literature, and the intellectual life of Asian Americans.