The stories in Who's Irish? show us the children of immigrants looking wonderingly at their parents' efforts to assimilate, while the older generation asks how so much selfless hard work on their part can have yielded them offspring who'd sooner drop out of life than succeed at it.
With dazzling wit and compassion, Gish Jen—author of the acclaimed novels Typical American and Mona in the Promised Land—looks at ambition and compromise at century's end and finds that much of the action is as familiar—and as strange—as the things we know to be most deeply true about ourselves.
The Chinese-American author (Typical American, Mona in the Promised Land) is a known quantity by now, though her sometimes uproarious but just as often compassionate tales of culture clash always manage to find some new and surprising angles from which to ambush the reader. There are two novella-length tales in this breezy, assured collection: Duncan in China tells of a young man, a dropout at home, who achieves a certain bizarre status on a prolonged visit to contemporary China, and of the perplexing choices he has to make when all his usual assumptions are turned on their heads. House, House, Home is the account of Pammies two marriages, to wry, eccentric Scandinavian Sven and, later, to massively laid-back Carver from Hawaii, and the sorts of space these very different men give her to move in. As always with Jen, a multitude of details, domestic and behavioral, are acutely observed, and the impact, in barely 80 pages, is that of a much longer work. The title story is a delightfully rueful account of a Chinese grandmother trying to come to terms with her spoiled Irish grandchild, Birthmates is a cunningly woven mixture of farce and pathos about a born loser looking for a job at a convention and In the American Society portrays the mixed dignity and foolishness of a traditional Chinese man trying, and failing, to adapt to our odd mores.