Paper Daughter

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Press: Isis (January 4, 2000)
Publication Date:2000-1
Author Name:Mar, Elaine


When she was five years old, M. 
Elaine Mar and her mother emigrated from Hong Kong to Denver, Colorado, to join her father.
There she worked with her family in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant, while living in the basement of her aunt's house.
Quickly mastering the english, she soon began to excel at school, but before long she found herself caught between two increasingly disparate worlds, the Chinese tradition and the independence of the America in which she lived.She fell in love with a red-haired boy who leads her away from the family, blocking out her family's vision of an arranged marriage in Hong Kong; eventually, alone she arrived in Harvard and a new future.

From Publishers Weekly

Asked by her third grade teacher to tell the class "what it's like being Chinese," Mar stumbled for a moment and answered, "Um, I like it, I guess." Her plainly told memoir, which recounts her passage from life in a crowded Hong Kong tenement to being a Harvard graduate, is the longer answer to her teacher's na?ve question. 
Opening the book with her first memory (the crunch of chicken bones between her teeth), Mar goes on to depict, with a strained simplicity, her arrival in Denver at the age of five and the difficulties of dealing with the competing demands of her traditionally minded parents and her new American peers.
For Mar, being from Hong Kong is not all firecrackers and dragon dances, though she assures her classmates that these are weekly pleasures there.
In elementary school, her greatest desire is to "obscure" her "foreignness." Nightly, she peers into the mirror, pinching at her face, hoping to shape her nose into something narrower and more "American." Rather than delve into the motivations of those around her, Mar often attempts to preserve the confusion she experienced as a child: "I didn't understand anything about America.
In Hong Kong, everybody liked me.
Now no one did." The result is a curiously shallow look at her life.
She closes the book with an epilogue summarizing her years at college during which the breach between her and her parents widened.
Attending Harvard, she concludes, was her own irreversible immigration.
Agents, Lane Zachary and Todd Schuster.
(Sept.) Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Mar came here from Hong Kong at age five, lived for years between two cultures, and ended up at Harvard. 
Sounds like a nice addition to the burgeoning genre of Chinese American memoir.Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Mar grew up in two different worlds--that of her strict Chinese parents and the unfamiliar and strange American culture at school. 
Whereas Elaine's childhood was spent adjusting to a foreign culture, her parents had faced hunger and poverty in China.
But like most immigrant families, Mar acclimated to U.S.
life better than her parents did, which created tension.
Her parents wanted their daughter to retain the Chinese culture and traditions, but they needed her as a translator and liaison to the world outside of the home.
As Mar reached the painful teenage years, she began to yearn for trendy clothes and the right to live her own life instead of taking part in her family's failing restaurant business.
She feared that she would never escape.
But her acceptance to Harvard eliminated those fears.
The disappointment with this memoir is that, after much detail of each of her grade-school years, Mar devotes only three short paragraphs to her four years at Harvard, leaving readers to guess what her life is like now.
Michelle Kaske

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

A funny, sometimes brutally honest, account of one Chinese immigrant's path from the tenements of Hong Kong to the halls of Harvard. 
What Mar captures most vividly is the difficult position occupied by many first-generation teenaged immigrants who are attempting to forge new identities as American kids while constantly being expected to serve as a cultural bridge for their more slowly integrating older relatives.
She instinctively realizes that lying is the best response to such conditions, so she lies about her parents' education, the restaurant where she works, and her parents' occasionally socially awkward behavior.
Her new identity as an American is constantly under threat of exposure by her inability to tell the same lie consistently to her several groups of acquaintances, and more than once she is nearly unmasked.
In one particularly vivid episode, her entire fragile self-image is shattered when the word ``seedy'' is used to describe the restaurant where she works.
She has sneaked a look at her recommendation to a special summer program of study at Cornell, and found that the psychiatrist who interviewed her during the application process was much more intrigued by her class status than by her intelligence.
Much of her struggle consists in convincing her parents to allow her to do the many everyday activities taken for granted by the average American adolescent, but which seem incomprehensible within traditional Chinese cultureactivities ranging from taking German in high school to spending time alone with her non-Chinese boyfriend.
While much of her story focuses on her desperate attempt to fit in as a teenager, Mar simultaneously details her effort to rebuild a bridge between her new American identity and her Chinese past.
Millions of Americans from diverse cultural backgrounds will find reflections of their own stories in this memoir; many more will find a deeper understanding of the complex relationships upon which our culture is founded.
-- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP.
All rights reserved.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A moving account of a young woman's struggle to shape her identity and imagine a future she can call her own. 
Against the odds, M.
Elaine Mar emerges whole, and the story she tells is unforgettable." -- A.
Manette Ansay, author of "River Angel" and "Sister" "Elaine Mar tells a truly fresh story about the Chinese American experience.
Imagine moving from the cosmopolitan city of Hong Kong to the white-bread environs of Denver and the cultural chaos that would create! I'm still thinking about the contrasting images of the fat Buddha sitting on top of the TV, of lunches of chicken bone marrow and dinners of Spaghetti's, and of Bible school lessons and a mother who continues to worship a pantheon of restless spirits." -- Lisa See, author of "Flower Net" and "On Gold Mountain" "Elaine Mar's writing is so immediate.
I don't think I have ever read a better depiction of the pain resulting from being wrenched Out of one culture to be shot into another.
No one who reads "Paper Daughter" will ever be able to look, at the workers in their favorite Chinese takeout in quite the same way again." -- Bruce Edward Hall, author of" Tea That Burns" "This intimate portrait of a young girl's journey from Hong Kong to Denver and eventually Harvard is so vividly drawn that the reader can almost taste the flavors of the foods prepared in the family's restaurant kitchen and feel the words of new language forming on the tongue.
The richly textured prose demonstrates that Mar has become a virtuoso of the very language she struggled so hard to adopt." -- Linda Katherine Cutting, author of "Memory Slips"

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Back Cover

With gritty, intimate detail, M. 
Elaine Mar takes us into the back rooms of a Chinese restaurant and the upper floors of an immigrants' social club, places whose addresses say "Denver" but whose interiors speak of another country.
By revealing this little-seen, insular pocket of America, Mar debunks the notion of a classless, integrated society.
Her portrait of childhood inside a struggling ethnic enclave challenges the stereotype of Asian Americans as a "model minority" highlighting instead the barriers to success that exist in every American ghetto, from Chinatown to Harlem to Appalachia.
In her unforgettable journey from enduring racial harassment on the playground to graduating from Harvard, Mar tackles the larger issues of class and ethnicity with wit and intelligence.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Elaine Mar graduated from Harvard University in 1988.
She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chicken Bones and Mother's MilkMy memory begins with the taste of chicken blood. 
Coaxed from the two-bone middle section of the wing, the crack of bone splintering between my teeth, the clotted marrow heavy on my tongue -- the memory of sweetness began before language, desire born before knowledge of the words to describe it.Until I was five, I lived in a tenement house near the Hong Kong airport, on the Kowloon side of Victoria Harbour.
Our building was a narrow eight-story walkup, a tired-looking column streaked dark with humidity and soot, faceless, unadorned, indistinguishable from any other building in the project.
Inside, the walls were concrete, the stairways dimly lit, the landings littered with residents pausing to rest on their climb to the upper floors.
Passing neighbors' hellos, their whines, complaints, and words of encouragement, were obscured by the roar of airplane engines vibrating through porous cinderblock.My parents and I lived on the fourth floor -- a stroke of luck, according to my mother, who recognized good fortune in any guise.
She didn't mind that we shared a five-room flat with four other families; that our central hall stunk of salted fish and dayold rice; that water only ran three times a week.
For her, it wasenough that we could make it home without once resting on the stairs.
Home, with breath to spare what more could we ask?My father was different.
He didn't talk about luck, preferring instead to rely on his own wits.
He'd discovered our flat the old Cantonese way -- through long afternoons grumbling in tea shops with his cronies, slipping housing inquiries in between puffs on his cigarette, in between the obligatory complaints about the government and Hong Kong's outrageous cost of living.
He'd waited through the useless replies: the long-winded formulas for improving the economy; the canny, ever-changing predictions about Hong Kong's future; the wistful, oft-repeated plans to leave Kowloon's projects for untold riches in America.
He'd listened to old men describe their latest ailments.
He'd commiserated with the young ones who cursed their bosses.
He'd nodded and sighed, swirling the tea at the bottom of his cup.
And finally, after weeks of tea and cigarettes, he'd heard about the flat on Ying Yang Street, near the Hong Kong airport.Four rooms each measuring ten feet by ten, a smaller fifth room, every room opening onto a central hallway.
A toilet at the end of the hall, shielded by a sackcloth sheet.
Enough floor space to cook in the entryway.
Overall, the apartment totaled less than six hundred square feet-but the number was irrelevant: Who could afford an entire flat? One family, one room -- that was the way we lived in Hong Kong.My parents, newly married, chose one of the larger rooms, away from the stench of the hall toilet.
They furnished it with a sturdy metal bunk bed, a chest of drawers, folding chairs, and a collapsible table.
They filled the bureau's drawers with thin cotton undershirts, flannel pajamas, my mother's nylon stockings, my father's brown knit socks.
On the bed's top bunk they stacked ricebowls and chopsticks, cases of noodles, sacks of rice, glass jars heavy with dried herbs and bark.
Then, amid the foodstuffs' delicious wild scent, my parents lay, squeezed together on the bed's lower berth, blessing the room with their desire for a family.Afterwards, duty-bound, my father set out for the tea shops again, spreading the news about rooms for rent.My father was a carpenter who worked on a construction crew, building the skeletons of offices and apartments high into the sky.
It was not a profession that he'd chosen, but one that had found him.
In his youth, my father had been clever with his hands -- he could weave birdcages out of twigs, repair any piece of broken furniture, create toys from scrap cloth.
His hands were quick and gentle, able to capture baby birds without squeezing the breath from their lungs.
They were hands that loved the feel of warm earth, hands that coaxed vegetables to spring from the sandy ground.
As a boy of six or seven, my father had dreamed of the things he could do with these hands: He'd imagined becoming a farmer, a sculptor, an inventor.
He'd imagined a future shaped by his own hands.But the force of history had intervened.
My father, Mar Yat Shing, was born to a peasant family in the Toishan region of China in 1930, two years into the military dictatorship of Chiang Kaishek, one year before Japan seized Manchuria, presaging the invasion that was soon to come.
These events -- and their repercussions -- came to shape my father's life more profoundly than any childhood games, his parents' stories, or the strength of his hands.By the time Father was seven, China was at war with Japan.
My understanding of this war comes primarily from textbooks -- from them I know about the bombings, the forced-labor camps, the widespread famine.
From these same books, I learned about the years that followed -- the civil war between Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists and Mao Tse-tung's Communists, Mao's ascension to power, the decades of violence afterwards.
I'm a good student.
I've read a lot.
But I still don't understand what my father lived through.In truth, I know very little bout the early part of my father's life -- he prefers not to talk about those years, and I'm required to respect his silence.
Ours is a culture that expects the young to revere elders, women to revere men.
Forever his child, forever female, I am not allowed to ask any questions.
I am not supposed to know about my father's weaknesses.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Biographies & Memoirs,Ethnic & National,Chinese,Specific Groups,Women,Memoirs

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Comment List (Total:13)

  •     I had to choose a book off of a list for my graduate cross and chose this one. Best pick ever. The author draws you into her story about her immigration into America from Hong...
  •     When I first started this book, it was incredibly captivating, because there were experiences Elaine had to which I can relate -the familial obligation, the confusion, the language barriers, the financial problems, etc. I was thrilled that an Asian American woman author chose to write about a deeply personal experience.As I neared the end of the book, I started getting confused. Mar seemed to be making a chronological list of things that have happened to her, but she offers very little insight into her particular experiences. I frequently asked myself, "What did she learn from this?" I felt as if Mar was spiraling downward, instead of trying to get something positive out of the pain and abuse of her childhood. It seems like she could have learned so much from her negative experience; instead, she kept running and running.In addition, I was confused about several other things, like the missing chunk of time between her elementary and high school years. Too little happened during that time for her to eloborate on? And what about the conclusion? Her story seemed to end abruptly, and she was running away again.Mar's childhood seems to have endless potential to provide her with the oppportunity to grow, but we don't anything learn about this. That was what stuck out the most, that she didn't seem to grow. I was especially curious to learn about her life in college - though she didn't write about that - because she was away from home and there were probably myriad revelations and self-discoveries.If she writes another book, I would definitely read it, because although I didn't enjoy Paper Daughter a lot, I think that Mar is heading in the right direction in writing about her experiences as an Asian American. I think all she needs is a little push.
  •     Elaine Mar's memoir is a story of the American dream, and like all other such stories, it has its unique roses and thorns.
  •     This is such a good book and it gives one a different perspective on living in the united states. it is so nice how the author describes her life and it feels so real.
  •     I loved this book and found it immensely readable. The writing carried you along without you wanting to stop.
  •     Although much of the focus of Elaine Mar's memoir could be written by anyone who experienced childhood teasing, discrimination, loneliness, poverty, low self-esteem; it is...
  •     Paper Daughter is a memoir that makes you think. It's indeed an intersting and informative tale about the lives of Asian Americans.
  •     Paper Daughter is a rich memoir of cultures crossing, as many reviewers have noted. It is also a valuable addition to the literature of class in America. But I find it has stayed with me most of all as a story about family, and especially about the terrible love that connects so many of us with our parents.Mar's rendering of her early childhood in Hong Kong is beautiful, capturing the satisfaction of a child who feels safe, known, and well-cared-for; she describes her family's meager resources with care and no rancor, making clear that for her, the world was rich and complete. One of my favorite images in a long time is of little Man Yee arriving at school asleep, snuggled up against her mother's back for the walk there. And if there is one moment of plain peace in this novel, it is when Mar, having completed with her mother the arduous and anxious journey from Hong Kong, is reunited with her father at the airport. Nuzzling against him as heart contracted and released. This was my father, and he remembered me."What felt to a little girl like an idyll for her family, one room in a crowded walk-up with uncertain plumbing, was of course not really tenable, and her parents were compelled to make the choices they did. And surely even if Mar's American acculturation had not divided her so painfully from her parents, something else would have. Who among us has not, at some time, looked around at her family, no matter how valued, and felt herself a stranger in a strange land? (After a recent reading from Paper Daughter, Elaine Mar told the audience that she believes that when she and her mother speak Chinese, she understands almost 100 percent of what her mother says, but her mother only understands about 70 percent of what Elaine says. Thinking of myself and my own mother, I thought "yep, that's about right," even though both my mother and I are native English speakers.)Mar's is a classically American story, of upward class mobility and the distance it puts between a young woman and her immigrant parents. But in spite of its honest treatment of an isolation so overpowering it sometimes made her nearly suicidal, Paper Daughter is nevertheless a novel infused with loyalty, love, and humor. Mar's appreciation for detail, and especially for the contours of the heart's many hungers, helps her paint a picture in which every face holds beauty and sorrow.There is no love more intense than the one that ties us to the parents who raise us, and there is no chasm deeper than the one that opens up between those parents and ourselves. We fight with each other desperately, perhaps just to keep from letting go altogether. In Mar's family, poverty, fear, and displacement added intolerable stress to the mix, as they do for too many families. Her parents feel she can never appreciate their sacrifices, and truly it seems that they can't understand her suffering either. Yet from this impasse Elaine Mar has created a book that honors both.
  •     Seriously the cheapest book i've found on here and in the best conditions. it looked hardly used.! it was great.!
  •     as an American whose ancestors go back to the english colonials who created the United States, I would give this book a one. Why?
  •     I loved this book. It was such an easy read. Her story (as with a lot of the kids born in the United States) was similar to mine and I enjoyed reading the book.
  •     This book is a wonderful read for two reasons. First, the book is written in such a way that you feel like you're having a conversation with the author. And secondly, the book is not a chronological review of the author's life events. Rather, she takes specific instances from her life that give you the essence of what her growing up was like, the feel, the taste, the texture. I would highly recommend this book to anyone.
  •     "I could not rely on Mother's judgement, I realized for the first time."This book is a rough read at times.

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