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Real Americans by Rachel Khong Reviewed by Ekta R. Garg of Bookpleasures.com
From:
Norm Goldman --  BookPleasures.com Norm Goldman -- BookPleasures.com
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Montreal, Quebec
Friday, May 3, 2024

 

Ekta R. Garg

Reviewer Ekta Garg: Ektahas actively written and edited since 2005 for publications like: ThePortland Physician Scribe; the Portland Home BuildersAssociation home show magazines; ABCDlady; and TheBollywood Ticket. With an MSJ in magazine publishing fromNorthwestern University Ekta also maintains TheWrite Edge- a professional blog for her writing. In additionto her writing and editing, Ekta maintains her position as a“domestic engineer”—housewife—and enjoys being a mother totwo beautiful kids.

View all articles by Ekta R. Garg
Author: Rachel Khong

Publisher: Knopf

ISBN: 9780593537251

Three generations grapplewith identity and culture through life challenges that pull themapart and push them back together again. Along the way, each personmust decide whether they will embrace the complications of theirlives or denounce everything. Author Rachel Khong’s plot of threemain characters offers prose with gravity but the wrong story orderin her latest book Real Americans.


In the weeks and monthsleading up to the year 2000 in New York City, college student LilyChen is trying to figure out if the media company where she works isher true calling. Unlike many of her classmates at NYU who seem tohave their whole lives figured out, Lily can’t decide what herlife’s big ambition should be. Her parents are both scientists, butgenetic mutations and biology never interested Lily much. The troubleis, she doesn’t know what does.

At a company party, Lilymeets Matthew and is in awe of how easy everything seems for him. Abig part of this is Matthew’s access to money. Not only is he asuccessful hedge fund manager, he’s also the heir to an enormouspharmaceutical company and the wealth it produces. Matthew doesn’twant to rely on his family’s money, he says, but he also doesn’thesitate to do so when a situation warrants.

Despite her doubts aboutherself in their relationship, Lily and Matthew fall in love and getmarried. When their son, Nick, is born, a terrible secret comes tolight that causes Lily’s doubts to resurface. She takes Nick andleaves Matthew for good.

Twenty years later, Nickis growing up on an island a ferry ride away from Seattle and feelingrestless. He and his mother look nothing alike; she’s small,petite, and decidedly Chinese. Matthew is tall, blonde-haired, andblue-eyed. It’s hard enough to field the surprise by strangers whomeet the mother-son pair, but Nick doesn’t even need theirquestions for him to have doubts about himself. 

His mother is closed offand doesn’t share anything about his birth father. After insistingto the point of exhausting her, Nick gets Lily to tell him Matthew’sname and reaches out to him. The connection, however, only does moreto confuse Nick about his past and himself. 

A chance encounter withhis grandmother, Lily’s mother May, takes Nick on an emotionaljourney. May relays her past and what brought her to the UnitedStates during a time of revolution and conflict in China. Through herstory, Nick realizes he can draw a straight line from May’sdecisions as an immigrant to Lily’s decisions as a young newlywedand, now, his own professional pursuits. He longs for Lily and May toreunite, but Lily refuses and Nick wonders if he’ll always live inthis strange limbo about himself and his place in the world.

Author Rachel Khong givesall three of her main characters time and space on the page to sharetheir stories. Readers hear from Lily first and then Nick twentyyears in the future before going back to the 1960s with May. Theprose is weighty, told with gravity and pauses during certain scenesso readers can feel them in full right along with the characters.

It’s unclear, however,why Khong chose to start with Lily’s story. In many places, herthoughts, ideas, and feelings sound similar to any twenty-somethingin almost any era pondering their place in the world. Lily oftenconsiders her parents’ cultural background, but in some places itdoesn’t seem as important in the narration as it does to her. As aresult, the story feels unnecessarily weighed down by all the heavywriting. The abrupt end to Lily’s portion of the book also feelsawkward.

The internal characteragony continues with Nick during his teenage years and earlyadulthood, making the plot drag in many places. Once again scenes aregiven a great deal of importance without any discernible reason why.Nick’s questions sound similar to Lily’s, albeit in a differenttimeframe, which might make some readers feel like they’re goingthrough the same story twice.

May’s story is without adoubt the most compelling, and after completing it readers mightwonder why the book doesn’t start with May and continuechronologically. The secret that drives Lily and Matthew apart wouldhave created a much bigger and deeper dramatic impact with May’sexperiences anchoring it. As it stands, the secret and the reasonsfor it feel rushed and as if the book doesn’t consider themimportant. 

The implied question inthe title—who are “real” Americans?—never gets fully answeredor even addressed. Those who are willing to give a story aboutcultural clashes, especially within families, a try might want tocheck this out. Otherwise, I recommend readers Borrow Real Americansby Rachel Khong.

 Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com

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Title: Book Reviewer
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Dateline: Montreal, QC Canada
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