A Long Stay in a Distant Land

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

A desire to find their own place in the world motivated Melvin and Esther Lum to leave their cultural roots in the San Francisco Bay area and settle in Orange County California. Then a steady stream of weird deaths—from death by ice cream truck to death by a bad hamburger—provokes a question of causes. A consensus contends that bad luck ignited when, years ago, the clan's grandfather, inspired by Popeye, felt compelled to kill Nazis in France in World War II. This apparent act of killing—no one of knows if he shot any Nazis or not—sparks, according to cultural wisdom, retribution.

Now Louis, a college graduate working as a fact-finder for a hot rod magazine, finds himself the one holding the family together. First he devotes himself to supervising his father, determined to seek revenge for the death of his wife struck by a car driven by a dozing medical student. Then another family task demands his energy. To comfort his grandmother worried about her favorite son, who has not written since his wife died, Louis sets out for Hong Kong to find his uncle. His success mirrors his father's turn of spirits.

Perspectives shift in this novel of transitional culture as each family member reveals motives, secrets thoughts, and favorite music. Louis's dad listens to gangsta rap while his grandmother sings along to Billy Holiday.

Chieh Chieng's A Long Stay in a Distant Land, spiced with funny idiosyncratic voices, presents with wry humor another picture of ethnic America. Here cultures merge, yet families retain their love, myths, and traditions while adopting what they choose of popular American culture. The unique voices ring both individual and universally true.