Memoir M. Elaine Mar Paper Daughter: A Memoir

ISBN 13: 9780060930523

Paper Daughter: A Memoir

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9780060930523: Paper Daughter: A Memoir

When she was five years old, M. Elaine Mar and her mother emigrated from Hong Kong to Denver to join her father in a community more Chinese than American, more hungry than hopeful.

While working with her family in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant and living in the basement of her aunt's house, Mar quickly masters English and begins to excel in school. But as her home and school life--Chinese tradition and American independence--become two increasingly disparate worlds, Mar tries desperately to navigate between them.

Adolescence and the awakening of her sexuality leave Elaine isolated and confused. She yearns for storebought clothes and falls for a red-haired boy who leads her away from the fretful eyes of her family. In his presence, Elaine is overcome by the strength of her desire--blocking out her family's visions of an arranged marriage in Hong Kong.

From surviving racist harassment in the schooIyard to trying to flip her straight hair like Farrah Fawcett, from hiding her parents' heritage to arriving alone at Harvard University, Mar's story is at once an unforgettable personal journey and an unflinching, brutal look at the realities of the American Dream.

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Review:

Born in Hong Kong to parents who immigrated there from the Toishan region of mainland China, Elaine Mar came to America in 1972, when she was not quite 6. Colorado was quite a shock to a girl who had previously shared a five-room apartment with four other families. "She must be rich," Man Yee (her Chinese name) thought, emerging from the basement room where she and her parents slept to explore her Aunt Becky's three-bedroom house in a working-class Denver neighborhood. Not so: her aunt, father, and other relatives worked in the kitchen of a restaurant owned by others, and Mar's pungent memoir of her odyssey from poor immigrant to Harvard undergraduate shatters stereotypes about Asians as the "model minority." She was a smart girl and a good student who soon preferred the American name Elaine and "only spoke Chinese when absolutely necessary," but she found it hard to decipher the "cultural cues" on which social success in school depended. Honestly chronicling conflicts with her parents, whose horizons and expectations seemed unbearably limited, Mar outlines her youthful rebellion and their response with mature understanding. Her observation of American life is as clear-eyed and unsentimental as her self-portrait of a girl adrift between two cultures. --Wendy Smith

From the Back Cover:

With gritty, intimate detail, M. Elaine Mar takes us into the back rooms of a Chinese restaurant and the upper floors of an immigrants' social club, places whose addresses say "Denver" but whose interiors speak of another country. By revealing this little-seen, insular pocket of America, Mar debunks the notion of a classless, integrated society. Her portrait of childhood inside a struggling ethnic enclave challenges the stereotype of Asian Americans as a "model minority" highlighting instead the barriers to success that exist in every American ghetto, from Chinatown to Harlem to Appalachia. In her unforgettable journey from enduring racial harassment on the playground to graduating from Harvard, Mar tackles the larger issues of class and ethnicity with wit and intelligence.

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