Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 305
Homebase, a novel, has a strongly autobiographical component. Shawn Wong, like Rainsford Chan, was orphaned as a teenager. His great-grandfather was a Chinese immigrant to the California goldrush and railroad construction labor. He lived through the stolid Fifties and turbulent Sixties in California. And he struggled to find a Chinese American voice and identity in an era when such journeys were rarely encouraged in mainstream Euro-America.
That being acknowledged, as Wong himself has often done, the book is neither disguised memoir nor fictionalized history. As Wong notes in his Introduction to the 2016 edition, the novel marked a turning point for him as a writer. It began as a very long poem, and his early understanding of his writer identity was as a poet. Moving into fiction but drawing on multiple genres as well as strands of his own experience, he was able to create a work that felt true to him.
As a coming of age story and a young man's journey, Homebase has a timeless quality but is also strongly anchored in traditional American fiction such as Huck Finn. But the distinct perspectives and multiple time periods give the work a different kind of American twist.
Wong was a pioneer in Asian American literature, tackling the hard issues of discrimination, social and legal, that Chinese and Chinese American people navigated over a century before Rainsford lived. The protagonist's quest for self-understanding goes farther than a civics lesson.
Rainsford's truncated relationship with his father, who died long before, and the other male ancestors he never knew, offer a poignant contrast to his more fleshed out understanding of his mother. Through her example, he understood parental love, but his assimilated self conjures up an idealized white American future bride, a symbol of the normative Anglo identity held out as the ultimate but for him unattainable dream.
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