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on March 18, 2007
This book is a must read that provides insight into our history and the dynamics of building a future in Canada. Jen Sookfong Lee takes a uniquely personal look into the lives of early Chinese immigrants in Vancouver's Chinatown and the hardships, sacrifices and loneliness they faced in trying to build a future for their families. She follows the story of the Chan family and their patriarch, Seid Quan as he leaves his village in China and begins the challenging process of establishing roots in this country, often in the face of prejudice. She explores the intricacies of multi-generational living, and provides insight into the dreams, challenges, obligations and disappointments of each generation of the Chan family. It is a beautifully written book that is relevant across cultures.
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on May 23, 2007
The End of East captures the Chinese experience in Canada - and the essence of family- in a touching, lyrical, sometimes shocking, and often funny story that spans three generations. It's impossible to read this and not care deeply about the long-suffering men and slightly demented women of the Chan family. Along the way, she paints a picture of Vancouver that anyone who has lived here will recognize: Mist-shrouded and narrow-minded, but full of beauty and possibilities, if you know where to look. Thanks to Jen Sookfong Lee for a wonderful, moving first novel.
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on March 11, 2007
Jen S. Lee beautifully and believably allows us to enter the lives of three generations of people who overcame their fears and desires for the sake of others. The End of East tells the story of an immigrant family and travels from China to Canada, and gives us a better understanding of the choices each person had to make - sometimes very limited choices. I found the book hard to put down and I was full of regret when I finished reading it, as I wanted to go back and be with these fascinating people again.
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Samantha and Penny are sisters and Penny lives at home with their mother in Vancouver, British Columbia. Samantha has just flown in from Montreal where she has been living for the past 6 years and is feeling a bit jet lagged as she enters the yard at the back of the house. There is a crackling fire ablaze in the backyard and her mother is burning her grandfather's old, woolly clothing. She is just champing-at-the-bit and orders Samantha inside to help her sister. There are 3 other sisters: Wendy, Jackie and Daisy of which Samantha is the youngest.

Penny is on her hands and knees in her grandfather's room ripping up the old red carpet that he brought over from his old apartment in Chinatown when he moved in. Mother is in a hurry to get rid of grandfather's "junk" before Penny and Adam's wedding because they'll need that room for the tea ceremony. And mother isn't happy that Penny is getting married so (in her terms), "quickly" and tells her she is an: "inconsiderate girl!" Penny doesn't understand why mother is so upset, after all she has been engaged for a month and grandfather has been dead for ten years! She's had 120 months to clean out his room. Penny figures her mother thought grandfather's death wasn't as important or as lucky as their father's because it only took her one week to burn everything of his!

While cleaning out his dresser, Samantha finds a yellowed document, cracked with age that read: "Chan Seid Quan...June 27, 1913 arrived at Vancouver, B.C. on the Empress of India." She knew he kept this because he never wanted to forget when his new life began. He owned a barber shop in Chinatown.

From here the story turns to grandfather and his arrival in Canada; his first job, his return to China to wed Shew Lin, and again for the birth of each of his 3 children, his trek back to Canada, and his takeover of the barber shop he would own and work in the rest of his life.

I wasn't sure at first whether I was going to like this novel or not but surprise, surprise, it provided such deep and insightful information about each of the characters that I was totally taken aback. The novel provoked contemplation and emotions without effort. A quick read and beautiful story.
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Lee's story about the trials and tribulations facing an early 20th century extended Chinese-Canadian family in Vancouver is both a colorful and disturbing portrayal of a complex and troubling past, where cultural values from the Orient meet and clash with those of the west. The novel covers several generations of struggle between individuals who have dreams of making it in the new land and those who are prepared to stop them dead in their tracks. The setting for this confrontation is the ghetto of Vancouver's Chinatown which from the early 1900s was the stomping grounds for many newly-arrived Chinese. The perspective for this multi-layered tale comes from a young adult granddaughter who is looking back over time to gain a sense of where her particular family has come from. She has reluctantly returned home to Vancouver from Montreal to attend her sister's wedding, only to indulge in a very troubling sexual encounter that robs her of her dignity. During her ordeal she learns from various sources about the history of her forbearers who came to North America with hope and determination, only to be met with prejudice and persecution. Here, Lee offers some very poignant insights into the life of Seid Quan, the plucky and determined Chinese immigrant-patriarch who led the way by bravely and patiently endeavouring to succeed as a barber in Chinatown against some insurmountable odds. The traditions of the old China that he left behind still weigh heavily on his conscience as he carves out a new existence. He has to return to China to marry an arranged bride who will later bear him a son who eventually travels to Vancouver to live with him; he has to then raise his oldest son in a world that offers more opportunities and challenges to succeed than what he faced when he first arrived. Right from the outset, the son, Pon Man, is forever falling out with his father over what he wants to do with his life. Then there is the task of bringing over a Chinese bride for his son and eventually welcoming his wife and other children to Chinatown. What he unwittingly brings to Canada is much of the same old social tensions and unhappiness found in old land based on intergenerational feuding. It is all a case of the younger generation thinking that they know better as to how to run their lives. In this book, old customs die hard; family ties are always fragile; language remains a constant cultural barrier for some; money is always scarce and living space always cramp; however, in the end there is a sense that Sammy, the prodigal daughter has not returned home to defeat and hopelessness, but an opportunity to break out of the old cycle of distrust and violence by befriending her mother.
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on November 24, 2007
While Lee's novel is full of resplendent imagery and compelling characters, the narration falls rather flat. It is as though a kind of nihilism runs throughout the telling, an unwillingness to nurture the more beautiful moments in each character's life. While beautiful, happy moments are not the measure of a good book, I found so little hope, and so little development of the loneliness and sadness, that it was difficult to feel more than a fragmented understanding of the characters. I suspect, however, that this was part of Lee's design: the patch-work portraits are no more evocative of determinable meaning/coherence than one's own existence in such a family (or, perhaps, any family) would be. Although I can appreciate Lee's postmodern gesturing toward indeterminacy, I nevertheless found myself drifting through the pages with little to hold my attention. I have hopes that in her next novel, Lee will weave her beautiful ideas a little more tightly so as not to let interest slip through.
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on April 27, 2007
Third-generation Samantha starts the story quite peeved that she is expected to move home to look after her mother. Then the rest of this book about sacrifice and the reciprocal obligation it creates explains why. With each generation, life becomes easier, but the family sacrifice/obligation expectation dynamic, with its strengths and challenges, is unchanging.

I found this to be a very engaging story, learned about the life lived by early Chinatown immigrants (and their wives an ocean away) and I especially enjoyed its lyrical prose, which is a delight to read.

Do the other authors whose reviews are on a book's cover actually read the book? Gail Anderson-Dargatz likely did - her "blurb" above is actually a very good summary.
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on June 1, 2014
I thought the beginning was promising - introducing characters I wanted to care about; know more about, a familiar location, a part of Canadian history that was interesting to me and a fine premise for any story - the lost child returning home. As the book progressed, with no sign of lightening along the horizon, I found less and less to like about their sad, isolated, oh so lonely lives. While the writing is quite lyrical and lovely, it wasn't enough to balance the endless misery of their story.

The weather analogy is quite perfect for this story - a dismal, drizzly grey Vancouver day that just goes on and on. By the end, I didn't care much what happened to them all - I just wanted to get out of my damp, cold, itchy sweater.
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