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The Concubine’s Children is the story of a family cleaved in two for the sake of a father’s dream. There’s Chan Sam, who left an "at home" wife in China to earn a living in "Gold Mountain"—North America. There’s May-ying, the wilful, seventeen-year-old concubine he bought, sight unseen, who labored in tea houses of west coast Chinatowns to support the family he would have The Concubine’s Children is the story of a family cleaved in two for the sake of a father’s dream. There’s Chan Sam, who left an "at home" wife in China to earn a living in "Gold Mountain"—North America. There’s May-ying, the wilful, seventeen-year-old concubine he bought, sight unseen, who labored in tea houses of west coast Chinatowns to support the family he would have in Canada, and the one he had in China. It was the concubine’s third daughter, the author’s mother, who unlocked the past for her daughter, whose curiosity about some old photographs ultimately reunited a family divided for most of the last century.


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The Concubine’s Children is the story of a family cleaved in two for the sake of a father’s dream. There’s Chan Sam, who left an "at home" wife in China to earn a living in "Gold Mountain"—North America. There’s May-ying, the wilful, seventeen-year-old concubine he bought, sight unseen, who labored in tea houses of west coast Chinatowns to support the family he would have The Concubine’s Children is the story of a family cleaved in two for the sake of a father’s dream. There’s Chan Sam, who left an "at home" wife in China to earn a living in "Gold Mountain"—North America. There’s May-ying, the wilful, seventeen-year-old concubine he bought, sight unseen, who labored in tea houses of west coast Chinatowns to support the family he would have in Canada, and the one he had in China. It was the concubine’s third daughter, the author’s mother, who unlocked the past for her daughter, whose curiosity about some old photographs ultimately reunited a family divided for most of the last century.

30 review for The Concubine's Children

  1. 4 out of 5

    Laurie

    This is a family biography, the story of a family split by an ocean and by different ways of life. It’s a sad tale of prejudice, war, and brutality, as well as of love. Chan Sam had a wife and land in southern China in the 1920s, but word was that one could make enough money at ‘Gold Mountain’- Canada or the USA- for a person to set themselves up for life. So Chan Sam went to Canada to make his fortune. He didn’t like being alone- there were very, very few women in the Chinatowns at the time. He This is a family biography, the story of a family split by an ocean and by different ways of life. It’s a sad tale of prejudice, war, and brutality, as well as of love. Chan Sam had a wife and land in southern China in the 1920s, but word was that one could make enough money at ‘Gold Mountain’- Canada or the USA- for a person to set themselves up for life. So Chan Sam went to Canada to make his fortune. He didn’t like being alone- there were very, very few women in the Chinatowns at the time. He acquired a concubine from China: a 17 year old May-ying, who was basically sold. Chan didn’t have the money to pay for her, so he made a deal with a tea house owner: the girl would be Chan’s concubine, but during the days and evenings she would work at the tea house to pay off her own purchase price. That’s not an auspicious start for a relationship. As time went on, May-ying had two baby girls. Chan wanted them educated in China, and between the two of them they had made enough money to go home for a while. When Chan Sam and May-ying returned to Canada, her daughters remained in China with Chan’s wife. They returned just in time for May-ying’s third child to be born on Canadian soil. It wasn’t the hoped for son that would have given her some prestige in the family, but another daughter- worthless in her eyes. In time, Chan Sam returned to China without May-ying to try and sire a son on his wife. This left the young May-ying in the unenviable position of financially supporting not just herself and her daughter, but Chan Sam, his wife in China, and her two daughters over there. Not to mention the costs of the mansion (by rural Chinese village standards) that Chan Sam was building in his village. That’s a lot to expect of a young woman. Even after Chan Sam returned to Canada, but had separated from May-ying, he showed up every week to collect the money she had earned. Not that he was lazy; he did back breaking work in the shingle mills and at any other job he could find. Employment was severely limited for the Chinese in North America. May-ying was a badly damaged person. She sought solace in alcohol and gambling, and abused her daughter both physically and emotionally. I was horrified by the way she treated her, but the circumstances of May-ying’s life might have broken anyone. Thankfully, the daughter, who took the English name Winnie, had the inner reserves to survive, concentrating on school and getting away from home. She succeeded in doing so, through hard work and marriage, and brought up a great family. The author is Winnie’s second daughter. After 50 years, the Canadian sister and the Chinese sister finally managed to meet in a 4 day visit that brought tears to my eyes. But what really hit an emotional chord was the way the Chinese family viewed May-ying: basically ignoring the money she’d sent for years, they saw her only as a very bad wife who brought only misery to Chan Sam. They were only given half the story. It’s a very sad story of the miserable lives the Chinese in North America lived during the first half of the 20th century thanks to prejudice, and an even sadder one that as bad as those lives were, they were considered worth while because monetarily it was even worse in China. I’ve read a number of books about the Chinese in North America, and this one is the grimmest. But it’s a story I couldn’t put down and stayed up half the night reading.

  2. 4 out of 5

    LibraryCin

    This is a biography of three generations of a Chinese-Canadian family. Chan Sam came to Canada and left his Chinese wife at home, but soon brought a beautiful younger Chinese woman to Canada as his concubine: May-ying. May-ying gave Chan Sam 3 daughters; before the 3rd one (Hing) came along, the other two had been taken back to China to live with Chan Sam’s Chinese wife. Hing, the daughter who stayed in Canada, was mostly neglected by her drinking, gambling mother. Hing’s daughter, Denise, is th This is a biography of three generations of a Chinese-Canadian family. Chan Sam came to Canada and left his Chinese wife at home, but soon brought a beautiful younger Chinese woman to Canada as his concubine: May-ying. May-ying gave Chan Sam 3 daughters; before the 3rd one (Hing) came along, the other two had been taken back to China to live with Chan Sam’s Chinese wife. Hing, the daughter who stayed in Canada, was mostly neglected by her drinking, gambling mother. Hing’s daughter, Denise, is the author of the book. The book does focus mostly on May-ying, but it also tells the story of the family in China, as well. I can’t recall the phrase in the book, but something along the lines of a split family. I thought this was very good. It covers a good portion of the 20th century, so it also includes a bit of history of how Chinese people were treated in Canada, and North America, in general, over that century. The story was interesting, and it did primarily focus on the most interesting person, in my opinion, May-ying. There was also a nice set of photos included – photos of those in both Canada and China.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sena

    I’m shocked by how much I ended up liking this. I can tell that this story is going to stick with me for a long time

  4. 5 out of 5

    Betty

    The Concubine's Children is a wonderfully crafted non-fiction book written by the granddaughter of the main characters. Chan Sam, a peasant, leaves his wife behind in China in order to go to the fabled "Golden Mountain" as Western Canada was refered to at the time (1913). He brings with him his Concubine, a beautiful but no-nonsense girl, to British Columbia, living in Vancouver's Chinatown. Expectations are high that Canada was a land of riches. All spare money was sent back to Chan Sam's wife The Concubine's Children is a wonderfully crafted non-fiction book written by the granddaughter of the main characters. Chan Sam, a peasant, leaves his wife behind in China in order to go to the fabled "Golden Mountain" as Western Canada was refered to at the time (1913). He brings with him his Concubine, a beautiful but no-nonsense girl, to British Columbia, living in Vancouver's Chinatown. Expectations are high that Canada was a land of riches. All spare money was sent back to Chan Sam's wife in China, and the Concubine and her children did without. The wife, Huangbo, raised their son & two daughters by the concubine in China; May-ying, the concubine worked hard as a tea-room waitress to earn money to support both the family in China and her husband and their own two children. Life was harsh, there were moves from Vancouver to Victoria's Chinatown. Gambling became a problem particularly with May-ying. This is a historical account of a time in the Lower Mainland of B.C. that every Canadian and American should read, there is so much history both of early B.C. and China, with China occupied by Japan, then the rule of Mao Tse Tung. A few years ago, the narrator Denise and her mother made the trip to China to visit what relatives they had there, and so the two families finally came together. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and read it when it first came out (about 1989; it has now been reprinted) and still keep my precious first copy paperback; I've loaned it or bought one for some friends through the years, that is how much I care about it. I have now read it a few times. Highly Recommended. A quote from Denise Chong: "I didn't realize the extent of it, until I did my history, that my grandparents lived in Canada at a time when they could not participate in White society."

  5. 5 out of 5

    Teghan

    This book was given to me as a gift and I cannot for the life of me understand why I hadn't read this earlier! A breathtaking memoir that spans a century. Chong writes so intimately, laying forth her family's history for all to see, the bad parts and the good parts. There is a quote on the front cover from The New York Times Book Review that summarizes this book so perfectly that I have to repeat it here: "Beautiful, haunting and wise, it lingers in the mind like a portrait one returns to often i This book was given to me as a gift and I cannot for the life of me understand why I hadn't read this earlier! A breathtaking memoir that spans a century. Chong writes so intimately, laying forth her family's history for all to see, the bad parts and the good parts. There is a quote on the front cover from The New York Times Book Review that summarizes this book so perfectly that I have to repeat it here: "Beautiful, haunting and wise, it lingers in the mind like a portrait one returns to often in a family album, and elicits the same mysterious response of love, melancholy and pride" It does stick with you. When I finished it, closing the back cover over, I felt sad. In reality what was only a matter of days, it felt longer, you live with the Chan/Chong family through 90 years of history and experiences. It leaves an impression on you, feeling as if you almost know them. With that thought in mind, I next pondered that this was actually the life of someone....it is a memoir, not a biography done by a third party. This is the life of several still living individuals, who have put their entire private lives out there for us to experience. I am unsure I would be able to do the same. It is not the story of any particularly remarkable person or event. Its rather ordinary actually, its an experience that many Chinese-Canadians experiences one way or another. It is about real people, with all their complexities. I realized this as I was frequently flip-flopping between sympathy and animosity towards May-ying; but thats how we react to real people: they are at times wonderful and less so at other times. Real people are never understood in a binary of good or bad, its a complex mix and that is what this memoir is. The story of real people and in the process, it becomes remarkable.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Hilary

    Fascinating and heartbreaking true story of Chinese immigrants in B.C.'s Chinatowns in the mid-1900s. This tale recounts the story of Chan Sam and his progeny. Chan Sam came to Vancouver to make his fortune at the turn of the century. After 11 years he is still waiting for his metaphorical ship to come in, while his wife and child remain in China. Anxious to produce a male heir, he takes a second wife, the titular concubine, who joins him in Canada. But this wife, May-ying, is no wilting flower Fascinating and heartbreaking true story of Chinese immigrants in B.C.'s Chinatowns in the mid-1900s. This tale recounts the story of Chan Sam and his progeny. Chan Sam came to Vancouver to make his fortune at the turn of the century. After 11 years he is still waiting for his metaphorical ship to come in, while his wife and child remain in China. Anxious to produce a male heir, he takes a second wife, the titular concubine, who joins him in Canada. But this wife, May-ying, is no wilting flower and is not content to simply do Chan Sam's bidding. She wants independence, but is willing to keep sending her husband most of her earnings to get it. Especially tragic is that after decades of working difficult and menial jobs to send money to China, the land and homes purchased there were ultimately confiscated as part of Mao's lands reforms. The book provides fascinating insights into the world of Chinatown from the 1920s through the 1950s - the tea houses, the gambling dens, the rooming houses. Absolutely riveting.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

    Another incredible memoir. Very well-written. This is one of my absolute favorites.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Melinda

    I loved this book. Part education piece, part grippin at your heart kind of story. I think it’s so important right now to learn about how immigration policies shape the lives of so many ppl living abroad from their home countries. You learn hugely the shared recent past of Canada and China through one family’s history and it’s just so well written too. This is a good one. I want to read more books like this. If anyone has any recs pls send em my way !!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Steven Langdon

    "The Concubine's Children" was first published in 1994, and became a long-time best-seller in Canada, having a major impact on many people's awareness of the past state abuse and discrimination endured by Canada's Chinese-origin population -- especially Chinese women. With the harrowing details in her hard-edged account of some sixty years of the lives of three generations of Chinese wives and daughters (all of it factual and presented with unsparing but calm deliberation,) Denise Chong provided "The Concubine's Children" was first published in 1994, and became a long-time best-seller in Canada, having a major impact on many people's awareness of the past state abuse and discrimination endured by Canada's Chinese-origin population -- especially Chinese women. With the harrowing details in her hard-edged account of some sixty years of the lives of three generations of Chinese wives and daughters (all of it factual and presented with unsparing but calm deliberation,) Denise Chong provided a social commentary on ethnic inequality but even more so on gender inequality and poverty. May-ying came to Canada in 1924, as a second wife or concubine to Chan Sam, starting the saga that Chong (May-ying's grand-daughter) recounts. It is a story of complicated and conflictual relationships, involving two continents and various locations across Canada, but Chong navigates her tale with skill, plus brings alive a series of disparate characters (May-ying and Chan, their three daughters, two other wives, a disabled son, then the lovers to whom May-ying ultimately turns, the husbands of the daughters, Chong herself and her family.) And in the end, the tension mounts as, more than 60 years after 1924, both sides of Chan Sam's divided family finally come to confront each other within a changing China. I found this book slow going here and there, given the recurring conflicts and maternal failures of May-ying, whose experience of abuse pushes into alcoholism. It is also a grim and depressing book at times, as again and again white society of the time blocks the chances of Chinese Canadians to realize their dreams. But on another level it is also a hopeful book because so much has changed for the better over time for those whose origin is Chinese (like our two daughters.) Most of all, though, I am struck by what an honest, blunt book this is -- how clear and forceful it is in organizing its evidence -- and therefore what a fine piece of work Denise Chong has given us.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Marcy prager

    Chan Sam, married to a woman in China, takes on a concubine and moves to the new world of Vancouver, with the hopes of making a fortune to send home to China. May-ying, the concubine has two daughters. The entire Vancouver family goes back to China. May-ying leaves her two daughters in China with Chan Sam's wife when Chan Sam and his concubine moves back to Vancouver. May-ying works hard at waitressing to provide Chan Sam with money to send back to China to support his wife and two daughters, an Chan Sam, married to a woman in China, takes on a concubine and moves to the new world of Vancouver, with the hopes of making a fortune to send home to China. May-ying, the concubine has two daughters. The entire Vancouver family goes back to China. May-ying leaves her two daughters in China with Chan Sam's wife when Chan Sam and his concubine moves back to Vancouver. May-ying works hard at waitressing to provide Chan Sam with money to send back to China to support his wife and two daughters, and later a son who is born with backwards feet. May-ying and her Chan Sam are no longer happy together. May-ying begins to drink and gamble heavily. May-ying has one more girl child in Vancouver and adopts a son years later. May-ying meanwhile, continues to waitress, gamble, and drink. Her abusive behavior to her daughter, Hing, is heartbreaking. Hing is an excellent student and she works hard to make her life as an adult better than her life as a child. This is a story about two families, all connected, but living in two worlds.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Enikő

    This was a re-read. I remembered having enjoyed it very much, but only vaguely remembered the plot and thought it was a novel. I decided to read it again and was pleased to see that it was about a real family, and based on real events. ------------------------ My review from 2009: Another good read. It was a bit difficult at first, owing to the fact that I had trouble with the foreign names of people and places, but once I got into it, I could at least make out wether the author was writing of a p This was a re-read. I remembered having enjoyed it very much, but only vaguely remembered the plot and thought it was a novel. I decided to read it again and was pleased to see that it was about a real family, and based on real events. ------------------------ My review from 2009: Another good read. It was a bit difficult at first, owing to the fact that I had trouble with the foreign names of people and places, but once I got into it, I could at least make out wether the author was writing of a person or a village. Some parts were very sad, all the more so because this is based on true events. Good ending, though. Nice to see the author derive joy of the outcome, finding meaning in all that happened and, finally, peace.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ann

    The memoir of a daughter born in the US (or was it Canada) to a Chinese man and his concubine. She unravels the history of her parents, both flawed in their own way, and her sisters that stayed in China with the 1st wife. An interesting read, although sometimes painful on the daughter's part, that explores the hierarchy and allegiances of the husband, 1st wife, and concubine.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Toni

    This is the amazing story of a young woman who comes to North America (Canada)as a concubine. It is the story of the author's grandmother and is told with honesty and love. It exposes the injustices Chinese immigrants faced on the North American continent. A great story and a tribute to the author and her family. The story spans three generations, two continents.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lbaker

    So many biographies do not read well, this one reads like fiction - which I mean as a compliment! Denise Chong grandmother May-Ying was the Concubine who moved to Canada from China to join her husband who she had never met. She lived most of her life in Vancouver, Nanaimo, and Victoria. The history of British Columbia was as interesting as the family history.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Val

    Wow! This book traces the family history of Ms. Chong's maternal side, and how the family was divided between China and Canada. A great history lesson about Vancouver and Nanaimo's Chinatowns, Canada's treatment of the Chinese, and of the hardships faced in China. A must-read.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Noreen

    Read this awhile back. After my mother's dad died when she was 18, she went to Regina Grey Nun's hospital for nurses training. Didn't know Chinese mothers/parents expected to be supported to the point they would sue their children for support.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Susan Chow-Dukhan

    An eloquently written memoir about the life of the author's grandparents, Chan Sam and his concubine May-Ying and the complexity of the lives the family faced in China and Canada. The book is well researched regarding the discrimination faced by Chinese immigrants and the impact of the isolation due to the separation from family members. Denise Chong was fortunate that her family was willing to provide stories from their past. Some families are reluctant to discuss their personal history. This bi An eloquently written memoir about the life of the author's grandparents, Chan Sam and his concubine May-Ying and the complexity of the lives the family faced in China and Canada. The book is well researched regarding the discrimination faced by Chinese immigrants and the impact of the isolation due to the separation from family members. Denise Chong was fortunate that her family was willing to provide stories from their past. Some families are reluctant to discuss their personal history. This biography had an emotional impact on me, as it gave me a better idea of what my father would have encountered when he immigrated to Canada and the loss of status and wealth due to the Japanese and the Communists. My father was born in a small community in 1895, and came to Vancouver, Canada in 1913 to join a family member who worked on a farm, leaving behind his first wife. During the period of the Chinese Exclusion Act, he travelled between China and Canada four times between 1926 and 1939, marrying additional wives and having children. My mother was 16 years old when she married my father, who was 21 years her senior. By 1950, my mother came to Canada to join her husband and they started a family in Toronto. We worked and lived in north Toronto, only going to Chinatown on a weekly basis, therefore we rarely met other Chinese children. Our weekly trips also included a visit to the family association rooming house, occupied by old men and one woman. We would patiently sit there, as my father would read the newspapers and chat with his clan members, who always seem to be smoking and playing pai gow. When my mother passed away in 2009, I went through the paperwork that had accumulated over the decades to find remittance receipts for monies my father had been sending to his China family on a regular basis. Initially there was a sense of resentment, as we had been brought up on a strict, frugal lifestyle, but like Denise's mother, events had evened the score. I had visited my father's China family with my mother, before my his first wife passed away. While my half brother led a success life I was lucky that my mother chose to come to Canada to join her husband before starting our Canadian family,

  18. 4 out of 5

    Carrie Kellenberger

    The Concubine's Children is so beautifully written, you'd never guess it's non fiction! I can see why Denise Chong has won so many awards for her journalism and writing. This is the account of her family's move to Canada and of two families that share a common heritage, but live in separate countries. Chong's grandfather, Chan Sam, decided as a young man to take his chances with Gold Mountain and make an earning there so he could move his whole family from a tiny village in Guangzhou to Canada. The Concubine's Children is so beautifully written, you'd never guess it's non fiction! I can see why Denise Chong has won so many awards for her journalism and writing. This is the account of her family's move to Canada and of two families that share a common heritage, but live in separate countries. Chong's grandfather, Chan Sam, decided as a young man to take his chances with Gold Mountain and make an earning there so he could move his whole family from a tiny village in Guangzhou to Canada. He leaves his first wife in China and takes his 17-year-old concubine to Vancouver, Canada. May-ying, the concubine, is not a particularly compliant concubine. She does what she pleases and it becomes apparent shortly after their move to Canada that she can earn more than Chan Sam as a tea house waitress. May-ying gives birth to two girls in Canada, and then goes back to work and gambling. Chan Sam saves enough money for the family to go to China for a visit. While there, he decides he wants to stay, but May-ying becomes pregnant again and she's convinced it's a boy. She convinces Chan Sam to bring her back to Vancouver so she can deliver the baby in Canada. When they get back, May-ying delivers another girl and they name her Hing. Hing pretty much raises herself when her mother and father drift apart, but Chan Sam still comes to May-ying for money to build the family's grand home in China. The concubine's third daughter is the author's mother, and how she reveals this is such a natural story, I just really loved Chong's writing and how she connected all the dots on both sides of the family to bring this story together. It's every bit as good as it's praised to be, and most deserving of the awards it has won!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    I think this is an important book to read. this story is based on the author's family history, but don't think it is a dry litany of accomplishments and woes. her grandfather immigrated to Canada to improve his family's life, but at great sacrifice. It is quite the saga and took til his granddaughter's generation for that to be fruitful - and really only for the branch of the family in North America. As she tells of his struggles to support his family behind in China, we learn the nitty-gritty o I think this is an important book to read. this story is based on the author's family history, but don't think it is a dry litany of accomplishments and woes. her grandfather immigrated to Canada to improve his family's life, but at great sacrifice. It is quite the saga and took til his granddaughter's generation for that to be fruitful - and really only for the branch of the family in North America. As she tells of his struggles to support his family behind in China, we learn the nitty-gritty of how life unfolded - and all his efforts were undone with the politics there. The details tell all the ugly truths in Chinatowns all over the west, and for those subject to the insanity back in China... Something to ponder as we consider the lives of current immigrants - in the homes they left behind and in the homes they are trying to establish - at what cost, at what reward...

  20. 5 out of 5

    Audrey

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. An interesting read in the sense that the historical, social, and economic events were from a first-hand experience and shows how politics affected the lives of Chinese abroad, but the writing style made me want to stop reading this book far too many times. Chong attempts to tell a biographical story of her family that had been separated across two continents, but the dialogue and precise happenings of events in the early stages of her mother’s life make it seem like a story she pieced together An interesting read in the sense that the historical, social, and economic events were from a first-hand experience and shows how politics affected the lives of Chinese abroad, but the writing style made me want to stop reading this book far too many times. Chong attempts to tell a biographical story of her family that had been separated across two continents, but the dialogue and precise happenings of events in the early stages of her mother’s life make it seem like a story she pieced together and made up the rest. The reconciliation of the siblings was lovely to read about, but everything preceding that bordered fictitious.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Shannon

    This was a very interesting read about the culture and people of China. It is a family split up, the wife and 2 children whom were born in Canada to concubine live in China with wife, while his concubine lives in Canda with their third child. The father, goes back and forth between Canada and China, mostly to keep up being allowed back into Canada. It is a sad story of a family split, the struggles on both sides and how each thinks the other side is doing better. It is the reunion of family membe This was a very interesting read about the culture and people of China. It is a family split up, the wife and 2 children whom were born in Canada to concubine live in China with wife, while his concubine lives in Canda with their third child. The father, goes back and forth between Canada and China, mostly to keep up being allowed back into Canada. It is a sad story of a family split, the struggles on both sides and how each thinks the other side is doing better. It is the reunion of family members after his passing and coming to terms with their past and moving forward.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    A compelling read about life of Chinese immigrants in British Colombia. This is the story of Ms Chong's grandparents and her mother. Her grandmother was the concubine of her grandfather; his wife remained in China. Their story highlights the financial struggle of their life, the segregation of the Chinese community, life in the Chinatowns of British Colombia. We see how the war and the changing political landscape in China impacted the families there and in Canada. Well written and easy to read.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Irene D

    An excellent portrayal of the hardships and tenacity of the Chinese culture. Educational and heart wrenching. I was stunned to learn of the Chinese politics of quite modern times. As the Concubine is damaged she also damages her daughter and the two are forever in conflict. Not that this is a cultural thing but is common everywhere. I found the author’s handling of this narrative riveting, compelling and heart felt.

  24. 5 out of 5

    EricaLynn

    This family memoir captured Chong's grandparents journey to Canada and starting a new life amidst uncertainty, war back home and racism in a country that was only part-way to acceptance. It inspired me to look into my own family's history. Chong talks about piecing together old black and white photographs, reading through journals and taking the trip to China to see her grandfather’s village. She ended with a line that’s stuck with me, that “the life we lead begins before and continues after our This family memoir captured Chong's grandparents journey to Canada and starting a new life amidst uncertainty, war back home and racism in a country that was only part-way to acceptance. It inspired me to look into my own family's history. Chong talks about piecing together old black and white photographs, reading through journals and taking the trip to China to see her grandfather’s village. She ended with a line that’s stuck with me, that “the life we lead begins before and continues after our time.”

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lea Taranto

    As I normally read fiction, I struggled at times to read when there were no scenes but mostly narrative summary. However, the tragic yet triumphant history of May ying and Chan Sam as they create a family severed in half by an ocean and an entirely different way of life is fascinating. So much sorrow in these lives in BC Canada and in Chang Gar Bin China. Pain is resolved when the family reunites and when Denise brings these stories back to life.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Maddie

    This was pretty good! It got really engaging once Hing was in the picture, but overall this was a very real and telling history of immigration. I had no idea about the history of Chinese immigration into Canada prior to reading this and I'm glad the book took time to explain the context of the story being told alongside the tales of the family.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Katrina

    Less easy to read than Snow Flower (which I also recently read), probably because it's a biography and has a lot of historical information as well. It wasn't real happy either, but I did find it interesting--especially the photographs, which made it all seem real.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Germaine Payne

    What an interesting, heartbreaking and inspiring story! Well-told and easy to read. I think this is an important story for all to read as it gives insight to the hardships often endured by immigrants and can encourage compassion for those whose stories we often know so little about.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Brian Liang

    One of the best written memoirs of a Chinese-Canadian family in the mid 1800's to 1930s. It's so strikingly similar to what my ancestors went through. I had a chance to meet Denise Chong and had her sign my copy in high school; a must read.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Theresa

    A fairly typical story of one family's history, one wife and a concubine in China and Canada, attracted by better life in Canada but tied to Chinese conditions. Sad true story, especially regarding value of females vs males.

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