Mixed-race Migration and Adoption in Gish Jen’s The Love Wife

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2015-04-03 20:39Z by Steven

Mixed-race Migration and Adoption in Gish Jen’s The Love Wife

Canadian Review of Comparative Literature / Revue Canadienne de Littérature Comparée
Volume 42, Issue 1, Mars 2015
pages 45-56

Jenny Wen-chuan Chu
National Kaohsiung Normal University, Taiwan

Migration is a way of geographic movement. It involves a sense of belonging, nostalgia and diaspora issues. Besides, adoption in the migrated family illustrates the fluidity and tenacity of racial boundaries in different national and racial origins. In Gish Jen’s The Love Wife, the question of Mama Wong’s motives haunts Blondie and Carnegie. Is Lan a nanny who teaches their two Asian daughters to be more Chinese, or is she a love wife who drives Blondie out? In contemporary America, an interracial marriage like Carnegie and Blondie’s is increasingly common. We might expect Carnegie to naturally speak Chinese and know his culture, but it is Blondie who speaks Chinese and instructs their adopted children on Asian heritage. It is not natural. However, when Carnegie discovers that he is adopted, and adoption is a natural occurrence in China, he finally realizes that nothing is unnatural. His home is based on mutual love and sharing multiple cultures, not blood or skin colour.

In the dimension of mixed-race migration, home is a discourse of locality, and place of feelings and rootedness. According to Henri Lefebvre, home belongs to a differential space, i.e., a spiritual and imaginary space. Our memories and souls are closely related to such differential space. Gaston Bachelard, too, argues that our home is a privileged entity of the intimate values that we take it as our differential space: “Our [home] is our corner of the world” (4). Home is no longer fixed, but fluid and mobile. Nostalgia is inevitable. But loving homes provide more stability than do memories of good old days. In the dimension of mixed-race adoption, the American dream is internalized as the way of the mixed-race family’s lifestyle. In America, Chinese culture is also highly strengthened in the diversity of Chinese American families. However, how can the second generation of Chinese immigrants enjoy their individual American dreams, but still have to cope with the demands and expectations of their familial Chinese parents?

In The Love Wife, we observe that the adopted children perceive and negotiate their ethnic/racial identities and sense of esteem as well as their acceptance and ease with such an adopted status. Wendy and Lizzy are both Asian Americans. Blondie, who has a WASP background, has always been at the mercy of Carnegie’s Chinese mother, the imperious Mama Wong. When Mama Wong dies, her will requires a “relative” of hers from China to stay with the family. The new arrival is Lan, middle-aged but still attractive. She is Carnegie’s mainland Chinese “relative,” a tough, surprisingly lovely survivor of the Cultural Revolution. Blondie is convinced that Mama Wong is sending Carnegie a new wife, Lan, from the grave. Nevertheless, through identifying the sweet home with multiple cultures, Carnegie and Blondie’s mixed-race family opens the room for the practices of migration and adoption.

The author, Gish Jen, is a second generation Chinese-American. Her parents emigrated from China in the 1940s, her mother from Shanghai and her father from Yixing. She grew up in Queens, New York, moved to Yonkers, and then settled in Scarsdale. Different from those prominent Chinese-American writers who look back at Chinese-American history for their subject matter and focus on the conflicts between Chinese parents and American children, such as Amy Tan, Maxine Hong Kingston, etc., Jen is developing her distinctive voice. She aims at full participation in American life and reveals in her writings a strong desire to be a real American. The Love Wife, her third novel, portrays an Asian-American family with interracial parents, a biological son, and adopted daughters as “the new American family.” Jen turns to the story of transnational adoption, addressing that kinship plays a crucial role in an interracial family.

Jen’s The Love Wife has been discussed critically in several articles. Fu-jen Chen and Su-lin Yu’s paper explores the imaginary binary relationship between Blondie and Lan, as well as Žižek’s “parallax gap,” through the gaze of the (m)Other in The Love Wife. It argues:

The polarized differences between Blondie and Lan are sustained on the grounds of a safe distance at which they…

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The Love Wife: A Novel

Posted in Asian Diaspora, Books, Media Archive, Novels on 2015-04-03 20:12Z by Steven

The Love Wife: A Novel

Vintage Books
400 pages
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4000-7651-2

Gish Jen

From the massively talented Gish Jen comes a barbed, moving, and stylistically dazzling new novel about the elusive nature of kinship. The Wongs describe themselves as a “half half” family, but the actual fractions are more complicated, given Carnegie’s Chinese heritage, his wife Blondie’s WASP background, and the various ethnic permutations of their adopted and biological children. Into this new American family comes a volatile new member. Her name is Lanlan. She is Carnegie’s Mainland Chinese relative, a tough, surprisingly lovely survivor of the Cultural Revolution, who comes courtesy of Carnegie’s mother’s will. Is Lanlan a very good nanny, a heartless climber, or a posthumous gift from a formidable mother who never stopped wanting her son to marry a nice Chinese girl? Rich in insight, buoyed by humor, The Love Wife is a hugely satisfying work.

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Half + Half: Writers on Growing Up Biracial and Bicultural

Posted in Anthologies, Autobiography, Books, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive on 2010-02-12 05:23Z by Steven

Half + Half: Writers on Growing Up Biracial and Bicultural

Pantheon an imprint of Random House
288 pages
ISBN: 978-0-375-70011-8 (0-375-70011-0)

Edited by Claudine C. O’Hearn

As we approach the twenty-first century, biracialism and biculturalism are becoming increasingly common.  Skin color and place of birth are no longer reliable signifiers of one’s identity or origin.  Simple questions like What are you? and Where are you from? aren’t answered—they are discussed.  These eighteen essays, joined by a shared sense of duality, address the difficulties of not fitting into and the benefits of being part of two worlds.  Through the lens of personal experience, they offer a broader spectrum of meaning for race and culture.  And in the process, they map a new ethnic terrain that transcends racial and cultural division.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction by Claudine Chiawei O’Hearn
  • LOST IN PLACE by Garrett Hongo
  • THE DOUBLE HELIX by Roxane Farmanfarmaian
  • CALIFORNIA PALMS by le thi diem thuy
  • MORO LIKE ME by Francisco Goldman
  • THE ROAD FROM BALLYGUNGE by Bharati Mukherjee
  • LIFE AS AN ALIEN by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah
  • LOST IN THE MIDDLE by Malcolm Gladwell
  • A WHITE WOMAN OF COLOR by Julia Alvarez
  • A MIDDLE PASSAGE by Philippe Wamba
  • FOOD AND THE IMMIGRANT by Indira Ganesan
  • WHAT COLOR IS JESUS? by James McBride
  • POSTCARDS FROM “HOME” by Lori Tsang
  • FROM HERE TO POLAND by Nina Mehta
  • TECHNICOLOR by Ruben Martinez
  • AN ETHNIC  TRUMP by Gish Jen
  • About the Authors
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The Interethnic Imagination: Roots and Passages in Contemporary Asian American Fiction

Posted in Asian Diaspora, Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2009-08-30 03:37Z by Steven

The Interethnic Imagination: Roots and Passages in Contemporary Asian American Fiction

Oxford University Press
October 2009
216 pages
Hardback ISBN13: 9780195377361; ISBN10: 0195377362

Caroline Rody, Associate Professor of English
University of Virginia

In the wake of all that is changing in local and global cultures–in patterns of migration, settlement, labor, and communications–a radical interaction has taken place that, during the last quarter of the twentieth century, has shifted our understanding of ethnicity away from ‘ethnic in itself’ to ‘ethnic amidst a hybrid collective’.  In light of this, Caroline Rody proposes a new paradigm for understanding the changing terrain of contemporary fiction. She claims that what we have long read as ethnic literature is in the process of becoming ‘interethnic’.  Examining an extensive range of Asian American fictions, The Interethnic Imagination offers sustained readings of three especially compelling examples: Chang-rae Lee‘s ambivalent evocations of blackness, whiteness, Koreanness, and the multicultural crowd in Native Speaker; Gish Jen‘s comic engagement with Jewishness in Mona in the Promised Land; and the transnational imagination of Karen Tei Yamashita‘s Tropic of Orange.  Two shorter “interchapters” and an epilogue extend the thematics of creative “in-betweenness” across the book’s structure, elaborating crossover topics including Asian American fiction’s complex engagement with African American culture; the cross-ethnic adoption of Jewishness by Asian American writers; and the history of mixed-race Asian American fictional characters.


  • Examines three major yet under-studied contemporary Asian American novelists: Chang-rae Lee, Karen Tei Yamashita, and Gish Jen.
  • Considers major Asian American fiction alongside African American and Jewish American authors.
  • In lucid writing, provides a valuable and innovative paradigm for interpreting the burgeoning field of ethnic literature in the U.S.
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