(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Homebase is a novel about fifteen-year-old Rainsford Chan, a fourth-generation Chinese American struggling to establish his identity both as a person and as an American. The central events of his life, and the ones with which the narrative is most concerned, are the deaths of his father (when Rainsford is seven years old) and of his mother (when he is fifteen).

The novel is divided into five chapters, each of which has a generous number of what might be called “speculative flashbacks.” Rainsford never knew his grandfather or great-grandfather, and he knew his father only slightly before his death. These “speculative flashbacks,” which actually make up most of the work, are founded both in reality and in imagination; Rainsford does have some factual information about his grandfather and great-grandfather in the form of letters, documents, and a few family stories and legends that have come down to him. He enlarges upon these to discover and define meaning for his own existence.

Wong begins the novel by giving the basic facts of Rainsford’s present circumstances and family history. The reader learns immediately of several important events in the young narrator’s life: Rainsford is fifteen years old, and both of his parents are dead. The narrator is pursuing the lives of his family members, especially those of his grandfather and great-grandfather. He tells us that he cannot speak Chinese, but he remembers his own father teaching him “Home on the Range,” buying him Superman T-shirts, and taking him to see World War II films. Although his grandfather and great-grandfather are never given names, they become central to the story, and it is through them and through Rainsford’s imagined history of their lives that he comes to terms with his own identity. Much of the opening section is a history, mostly contrived by Rainsford, of...

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(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Gong, Ted. “Approaching Cultural Change Through Literature: From Chinese to Chinese American.” Amerasia Journal 7 (Spring, 1980): 73-86. Gong delineates the processes of acculturation common to all Chinese immigrants. A reading of Gong’s study validates the credibility of Rainsford Chan’s experiences.

Hom, Marlon K. “A Case of Mutual Exclusion: Portrayals by Immigrant and American-Born Chinese of Each Other in Literature.” Amerasia Journal 10 (Fall/Winter, 1984): 29-45. Hom’s article, while discussing works written both in English and in Chinese, elucidates various problems between Chinese and American cultures. Helpful in understanding Rainsford Chan’s entrapment in middle territory between the two cultures.

Kazin, Alfred. A Writer’s America: Landscape in Literature. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988. Two chapters of this book discuss the landscape of the American West, which is central to Rainsford Chan’s discovery of self and identity. These include chapter 3, which has information about the lands where Chan’s forefathers worked on the American railroad, and chapter 6, which explains the role of California in the American identity, something learned by the main character.

Monaghan, Peter. “Writing Novels, Winning Races.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 42 (January 26, 1996): A5. A brief profile of Wong covering his career as a writer, college instructor, and part-time drag-race driver for the Chrysler Corporation. Offers interesting insight into Wong’s background and motivation for writing.

Spencer, Benjamin T. Patterns of Nationality. New York: Burt Franklin, 1981. Part 1 of this text, entitled “The Nature of Nationality,” spells out particular changes experienced by various ethnic groups arriving in the United States. The author addresses problems that occur when “continuity” and “change” confront various groups of new arrivals.

Yu, Connie Young. “Rediscovered Voices: Chinese Immigrants and Angel Island.” Amerasia Journal 4, no. 2 (1977): 123-139. Yu discusses in some length the experiences of Chinese immigrants arriving in the United States to be processed for residency through government officials at Angel Island. Such experiences were lived through by both Rainsford Chan’s great-grandfather and grandfather.