Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 197

The second of Timothy Mo’s novels (the first, The Monkey King, was published in 1978), Sour Sweet was praised for its subtle treatment of the immigrant experience from the Chinese point of view. Sour Sweet was short-listed for Britain’s most prestigious literary award, the Booker Prize, as was Mo’s expansive, ambitious third novel An Insular Pussession (1986), set in nineteenth century China.

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According to most critics, the dominant theme in Mo’s fiction is the clash of cultures between East and West, a theme which he explores in Sour Sweet with a keen appreciation for comic incongruities and for the humor in cross-cultural collisions. Mo’s characters are never caricatures; rather, they are highly individualized types, completely recognizable yet strange to anyone who has had experience with first-generation immigrants. Certainly, one of Mo’s real contributions to contemporary fiction is his reversal of that cliche (evident not only in fiction but also in film), the Western traveler attempting to interpret another culture, with comically disastrous results. In his novels, Mo provides a glimpse of Western culture, viewed and analyzed from the Chinese perspective, thus proving that culture aside, human nature is the same the world over.

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