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Mona in the Promised Land Hardcover – May 7, 1996

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 303 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (May 7, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679445897
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679445890
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.8 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,907,644 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Gish Jen's second novel is populated by characters who "switch" ethnicity almost as if they were changing their hairstyles. The main character, Mona Chang, whose parents were featured in Jen's first effort, Typical American, acts Chinese for her American schoolmates and then converts to Judaism and becomes known as Changowitz. Then there's Naomi, a black woman who teaches Mona's Chinese-American sister about being Chinese. Jen's casual style and deftness with different voices make this a rich and compelling novel.

From Publishers Weekly

The rich stew of ethnic differences in America's melting pot provides robust fare in Jen's wickedly and hilariously observant second novel. In chronicling the coming-of-age of a refreshingly un-neurotic Chinese-American teenager, Jen casts an ironic eye on some of the hypocrisies of contemporary society, and her amusing insights illuminate several minority cultures. Mona Chang is in eighth grade in the late 1960s when her family moves to Scarshill, an affluent, mainly Jewish suburb of New York City. Her parents, upwardly mobile Helen and Ralph Chang, met in Jen's acclaimed first novel, Typical American. Smart, wisecracking Mona soon comes to the conclusion that "if you want to know how to be a minority, there's nobody better at it than the Jews," and she approves of Judaism's intellectual latitude and social activism. "American means being whatever you want, and I happened to pick being Jewish," Mona says. Her parents are appalled; by claiming the freedom to choose, Mona is violating what Jen presents as one of the basic rules of Chinese parent-child relationships. But being a "solo Jew" is only one of Mona's problems as she navigates the difficult shoals of adolescence as an ethnic and religious maverick as bewildered as any teenager by the mysteries of love and sex. Her tentative romances with a Japanese student and with a Jewish pseudointellectual dropout are also complicated by social idealism. When Mona and her boyfriend decide to move the black cook at the Changs' pancake restaurant into her best friend Barbara Guglestein's imposing house, the results are predictably droll. Jen matches intelligence with affectionate wit, narrative skill with firm knowledge of human nature.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Gish Jen has published in the New Yorker, the Atlantic, the New Republic, and other magazines, as well as in numerous anthologies, including The Best American Short Stories of the Century. Her honors include a Lannan Literary Award and a Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. For further info, please see

Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Jay A. Allen on December 20, 2000
Format: Paperback
I was tempted to give this book 3 stars, but couldn't bring myself to do it. Gish Jen is really a fantastic writer who can carve meaning out of detail as well as anyone else pumping out fiction today. And that's almost good enough.
In Mona Chang, Jen creates a funny, wise-cracking Asian-American woman confused by the dizzying cultural contradictions that surround her. Bad enough that her own country - the US, folks - stereotypes and denigrates her; the real problem is her parents, Chinese immigrants who want their daughter to be Chinese without being *too* Chinese - independent and obedient in the same heartbeat. Mona proceeds to find herself by experiencing the entire spectrum of the so-called "melting pot," and in doing so unearths discrimination - spiritual, financial and racial - under every rock, including those in her parents' own yard.
Reviewers have remarked that this book sheds new light on race relations in America. Jen's primary achievement, however, is in demonstrating the equivalence between the battles for financial, racial and spiritual liberation. She puts inclusionism - or "cafeteria racism" - to a scathing acid test: most of her characters are so bitterly wrapped up in their own quest for social liberation that they don't notice the common cause they share with the people they profess to despise. MONA is also illuminating for whites who have never experienced racism, who wonder how asking an Asian-American "Where are you *really* from?" could possibly be insulting, or why a group of militant African-American men would revolt when a young white girl accuses them en masse of thievery.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Daphne Adair on May 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
Other critics in this space have commented on the more serious aspects of this novel as an immigrant novel; if you want an immigrant novel, I suggest Jen's prior work, "Typical American," a book about Mona's family one generation before. If, on the other hand, you're interested in the new American bildungsroman, you're in the right place.
I picked up this book in a traditional bookstore and opened to a chapter following a frightening event Mona decides to hide from her parents. Mona's fright after and decision to hide her near-rape as a teenager is compared lyrically to a time when, as a small girl, Mona tried to dry a doll's dress over a gas burner and it caught on fire. The description of the doll dress shrivelling and flaming in the kitchen sink was enough to make me buy the book; the juxtaposition of these scenes when reading the book through quite impressed me. Jen's flawless transition and subtle use of metaphor throughout the novel make this a classic American novel.
The book taken from an objective standpoint does seem a little unbelievable from time to time. However, Jen has depicted Mona so sympathetically that we are drawn in and follow her willingly through her romps, and her friends' romps, that we will believe anything as long as it follows with her character.
Finally, Jen capably follows Mona over several years, even foreshadowing ten and fifteen years in the future, without destroying the suspense of the book. By the time we're done reading, we believe that Mona has managed to grow up with herself, holding true to her family, her Chinese heritage, and her Jewish affiliation, after all.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 3, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book was definitely a roller coaster. I'm actually torn in my evaluation of the novel because at some points, Jen really seemed both insightful and entertaining but at other points she seemed to rely more on (as some other reviewers have said) human caricatures and tended to drag the story a bit.
I liked the character Mona. She seemed both clever and funny and was a very complex character. In fact the only real criticism I would have of the book had to do with "Camp Gugelstein" - the establishment of a psuedo-hippie commune in one of the character's houses. It seemed a little "Combaya"ish if you know what I mean. A bunch of cool adult guys in the seventies willingly doing yoga? That's a bit much. Alfred and the "brothers" - as an African American (even though I know Jen was strongly trying to avoid this) I felt as if she seemed to lean more towards black stereotypes - the embittered brother who constantly argues about injustice but shuffles his feet when it comes to making any change. In fact the only time that Alfred seems to be empowered is when he meets his white girlfriend which some would say could imply the age old theme that a black person can only achieve greatness with the help of Caucasians. But don't get me wrong. I'm not trashing her characterization entirely because I applaud her effort to at least introduce the topic of Chinese American and African American relations in a fictional literary work. I've never seen it done before. For a pioneering effort, it was a relatively good try.
My final evaluation: I'd read Who's Irish? over again before I'd check this one back out the library...
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