Jade Snow Wong May Hill Arbuthnot - Essay

May Hill Arbuthnot

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Fifth Chinese Daughter] is an enchanting record of Chinese customs and celebrations as well as the gradually unfolding talents of young Jade…. Her happy adjustment to the dual demands of her Chinese-American life makes this an unusually significant book. (p. 228)

May Hill Arbuthnot, "Transitions from Juvenile to Adult Reading," in her Children's Reading in the Home (copyright © 1969 by Scott, Foresman and Company; reprinted by permission), Scott, Foresman, 1969, pp. 211-41.∗

Fifth Chinese Daughter—still in print after 25 years—was a deceptively simple memoir of childhood and adolescence in San Francisco's Chinatown during the '30's and '40's. The sequel [No Chinese Stranger], which takes Jade Snow Wong and her husband through four children, a satisfying joint career and extensive travels, shows only intermittent flashes of the old charm. The first part is narrated like Fifth Chinese Daughter in the third person; the death of Jade Snow's father effects a clear psychological break indicated by a switch to the first person. What follows is somehow incomplete and unassimilated: family activities, changes in the Chinese-American community and a visit to the People's Republic arouse moments of remarkable perception but also long stretches of undigested events. Jade Snow herself is somehow lost in the shuffle—we see odd and not altogether attractive fragments that never coalesce into a whole person. The China trip is especially unsatisfying. It is treated as a reverent homecoming, yet the main approach is that of tourists—as concerned with the vagaries of hotel accommodations or the quality of Chinese champagne as with Jade Snow's response to the new accomplishments of her ancestral land…. One comes away from the book not quite sure what sort of person Fifth Daughter grew up to be. Her most attractive self is still the filial: the portraits of her parents are the most solid and the most moving part of this chronicle—touchstones of stability in a curiously over-crowded, uncentered field of vision.

"Non-fiction: 'No Chinese Stranger'," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1975 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. XLIII, No. 8, April 15, 1975, p. 507.