If you're Irish American or African American or Eastern European Jewish American, there's a rich literature to give you a sense of your family's arrival-in-America story. Until now, that hasn't been the case for Chinese Americans. From noted historian Mae Ngai, The Lucky Ones uncovers the three-generational saga of the Tape family. It's a sweeping story centered on patriarch Jeu Dips' (Joseph Tapes') self-invention as an immigration broker in post-gold rush, racially explosive San Francisco, and the extraordinary rise it enables. Ngai's portrayal of the Tapes as the first of a brand-new social type - middle-class Chinese Americans, with touring cars, hunting dogs, and society weddings to broadcast it - will astonish.
Again and again, Tape family history illuminates American history. Seven-year-old Mamie Tape attempts to integrate California schools, resulting in the landmark 1885 Tape v. Hurley case. The family's intimate involvement in the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair reveals how the Chinese American culture brokers essentially invented Chinatown (and so Chinese culture) for American audiences. Finally, Mae Ngai reveals aspects - timely, haunting, and hopeful - of the lasting legacy of the immigrant experience for all Americans.
©2010 Mae Ngai (P)2011 Audible, Inc.
"The Lucky Ones is nothing short of a revelation. It insists that we rethink and enlarge our ideas about American immigration. The Tape family story has the texture and the range of great fiction. Mae Ngai has accomplished the admirable task of providing us with a wealth of historical material, while creating a narrative that pulls us thrillingly along in its wake." (Mary Gordon, author of Final Payments and Circling My Mother)
"Ngai fashions a terrifically readable, compelling work about the little-known middle-class in the Chinese immigrant experience." (Publishers Weekly)
One day I'd like to listen or read a book that effectively educated me about the history of Chinese Americans, or at least entertained me about a fascinating family. This book promises more than it delivers.
While the Tape family has a few moments of interest (most notably the court case requiring that San Francisco educate its Chinese American children), for the most part, this family wasn't ultimately that interesting. There must be many other Chinese clans that would have provided better material.
The fundamental theme in the entire book is that Chinese Americans were systematically discriminated against in the late 19th and early 20th century. This is an extremely important point. However, by the umpteenth prosaic example of how this affected the Tapes and there contemporaries, the impact has lost its edge..
In the end, I think that choosing a different family would have been better, or perhaps by using more than one family, the author could have mined this topic more effectively.
This book is not an epic, but I am sure there is epic material out there regarding the terrible trials and heroic triumphs of the Chinese in America.
On a separate note, I think the narrator is rather dry. I do appreciate the dual pronunciation of the Chinese names, but for the most part, she is kind of dull.
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