But when his mother suddenly dies, Emerson sets out for Taipei to scatter her ashes, and to convey a surprising inheritance to his younger brother, Little P. Now enmeshed in the Taiwanese criminal underworld, Little P seems to be running some very shady business out of his uncle's karaoke bar, and he conceals a secret--a crime that has not only severed him from his family, but may have annihilated his conscience. Hoping to appease both the living and the dead, Emerson isn't about to give up the inheritance until he uncovers Little P's past, and saves what is left of his family.
The Foreigner is a darkly comic tale of crime and contrition, and a riveting story about what it means to be a foreigner--even in one's own family.
©2008 Francie Lin; (P)2009 Audible, Inc.
I bought this book in spite of the bad reviews and hey, was I glad I did. I can see why it won the Hugo. It is a wonderfully drawn portrait of a Chinese American who comes "home" to Taiwan and finds himself a stranger in a strange land. The characters were all kooky, colourful and fully drawn, made even more delightful by the wonderful narrator, James Chen. A bravura performance which I am glad I did not miss. Did I mention that it is suspenceful and an interesting take on Taiwan? Highly recommended.
I'm giving this 4 stars. In terms of narrative it's a bit flawed (who's perfect?) but for me there is a lot of interest in the main character and his experience of return to Taiwan as a "foreigner". Some nice observations on Taiwan, and also on Asian-American identity. One thing that annoyed me a little was one of the characters' tirades against a white American who has "gone native" in Taiwan, since I got a bit of an impression that this reflects the author's own feelings. So, what, white Americans are not meant to go to Asia? Or if they do they should remain superficial tourists? Why is it possible for an Asian migrant to the US to have an authentic hyphenated identity but impossible for a white expatriate in Asia to establish the same thing? Sure, these are somewhat different propositions, but come on, Francie, cultural belonging is flexible and negotiable, isn't it? For me this issue is seen through a bit of a crude orientalist lens. That gripe apart, I found lots to like here.
I generally dislike books in which the protagonists get deeper and deeper into trouble. In The Foreigner, Emerson, a Chinese American, goes to find his brother after the mother has died. He finds a disquieting world of Asian corruption and dangerous family ties. Horrible plot - right? Well along the way we see into the repressed, tenacious, ultimately even noble soul of this odd main character, and find something there to like. I enjoyed this book and am still thinking about it quite a while after finishing it.
James Chen's Asian accent narration and ability to convey the innocence and earnestness of Emerson as he navigates the snake pit of relatives and the flower garden of interested potential girlfriends is just wonderful!
Because of the good reviews and the award that The Foreigner received, I read the entire book, but, about half way through, I think it was sheer stubbornness that kept me going. The synopsis of the plot promised much, but failed to deliver. The motivations of the characters were never explained; apparently their actions were clear enough for the writer. Although there was some suspense about the nature of the activities of the Twainese brother, it was drawn out and by the time I found out what he did, I had long ago ceased to care. The protagonist, although admirable in many respects, was not interesting and, again, his character and motivations were not explained. As for the two cultures, Chinese and American, there was no attempt by the author to devle into them, and this book in no way added to my understanding of the Chinese experience in the US or the expat experience in Tawain. Ultimately, I felt disappointed in myself for spending the time to finish the novel. Francie Lin is a talented writer, but this novel, her first, is only a beginning, one with which I did not need to be associated. On the plus side, the book was well-narrated.
I bought this title partly seeing the average rating of three stars, and it was a mistake. Ms. Lin seems a good writer; this is not a good read. The very high quality of James Chen's narration only boldfaces the problem and helped to prolong my frustration. The problem is the unalterably bumbling actions of the protagonist. On his best day, the protagonist is pure dolt. Not innocent or naive. Just plumb dumb. It adds up to a level of reader interest akin to watching a goldfish bumping its head against the side of the bowl. For hours. And hours. Had me doing the same. Maybe that's a reason to get the book; not sure I can recall a character this unnerving. An Edgar? Maybe they know something I do not. So two stars.
I patiently listened and tried to find redeeming features about this book - to no avail. The protagonist is so weak and unbelievable that any other potential in this novel is drowned out and lost in the noise.
Save your money and your time. There are way too many other good books out there.
This novel started with great promise - good writing, intriguing premise, unusual focus (on Taiwan and main characters with a tie to both the U.S. and Taiwan).
But the protagonist turned out to be one of the most unsympathetic and irritating lead characters I can remember encountering. Hapless, helpless, self-absorbed, with no personality or likability. The 'action plot' and what passes for a bit of a mystery is poorly developed and not very believable.
Where the novel shines is when the focus is on Grace and Angel and their respective relationships with the protagonist Emerson. The two very different women are affecting and engaging and thanks to them Emerson flickers to life, albeit briefly. Without Grace and Angel, I'd be giving this book one star.
The brother Little P has potential that mostly goes to waste.
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