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Pao: A Novel Paperback – Bargain Price, July 5, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Young's vexingly inert debut presents the post-WWII history of Jamaica as told in the pidgin English of Yang Pao, a Sun Tzu–quoting strongman in Kingston's Chinatown. After arriving in the city in 1938, Pao rises through the ranks of the local underworld to run a protection and stolen goods racket, and falls in love with Gloria, a beautiful prostitute who bears him a child. But his ambitions lead him away from Gloria and toward Fay, the daughter of one of Kingston's richest Chinese men. After he marries Fay, Pao's business empire grows, but his personal life proves disastrous, leading him to consult The Art of War for advice. The unusual cultural perspective gives the novel's early pages some fire, but the decision to structure the book, particularly in the final third, around milestones of recent Jamaican history, makes the book feel more like an informal history, especially as political and economic minutiae of Jamaica's independence from Britain ("By the mid 1950s Jamaica was on the up, especially because they discover the bauxite") become more prevalent. Once the focus settles more on Jamaican politics than the characters, the story dries up and never recovers, and what felt at the outset like an intriguing epic ends up dull. (July) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


"Against a backdrop of Jamaican history, a likable Chinese-Jamaican runs rackets in this eye-opening, rambunctious debut.... Young leads from the heart (her father served as a model for Pao) to celebrate a resilient world that tourists never see. You’ll enjoy the view." - Kirkus Reviews
 "Pao... confirms Young as a gifted new writer. Her novel is a blindingly good read... both for its mesmeric story-telling and the quality of its prose." - Observer (UK)

"With grace, authenticity and teasing humour, Kerry Young allows the political history of Jamaica to shine through the life story of her charming yet fallible hero. Brilliant." -Daily Mail (UK)


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (July 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608195074
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608195077
  • ASIN: B0071UK7FK
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,437,042 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Beverly Jackson VINE VOICE on October 19, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Pao by Kerry Young introduces Yang Pao, a 14 year-old who is beginning life anew in Jamaica with his mother and brother. It is 1938 and Pao's father has died fighting in the Chinese Civil War. Their benefactor is the father's best friend Zhang, the godfather of Kingston's Chinatown. Zhang, who never married, has a place in his organization for the family, but it is Pao who seems to have the knack for the small-time rackets and protection services, and fills the void in Zhang's personal life. But, Jamaica at this time is not without strife while still a British Colony, the people are becoming vocal over better working conditions, and self-government, and trying to determine what is their identity as Jamaicans. As the years pass, and the conflict grows, battles between keeping the status quo or moving ahead with changes will not only affect the country but personal lives. Pao will be tested many times over the years to prove where his loyalties lie and as often with compromise all sides lose.

Pao is an engaging novel that looks at the timeframe in Jamaican history not often told, from the pre-independence days of the 1930s to the independence in the 1960s to the political and economic unrest in the 1980s. With ease and captivating storytelling, the author takes us into the Jamaican Chinese world informing the reader of the vibrant community through the lives of the characters. Each chapter heading is a snippet from Sun Tzu's The Art of War, and while you would think this would be helpful in Pao's business practices, it is in his personal life that he employs the strategic advice. Pao is torn between his love for Gloria, a black Jamaican, and his need to earn respectability within the Chinese community and to honor Zhang.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By IsolaBlue on July 21, 2011
Format: Paperback
Decades slip by in a flash in this delightfully crafted novel about a Chinese immigrant to Jamaica and his life, labors, and loves. Author Kerry Young does a great service to her home country and to her own ancestral history by bringing the world's attention to the often unknown world of the Chinese immigrant in Jamaica.

Young Pao is introduced to his new life in his new country by Zhang, the man who has paid for Pao's mother's passage to the West Indies after the death of Pao's father. Zhang is a combination godfather and wise man in the underworld of Jamaica's Chinatown. He raises Pao to follow his footsteps and Pao, who has little formal schooling, learns his lessons of life on the city streets.

As Pao narrates, the reader sees him as a rather serious, contemplative man for whom toughness does not seem to come naturally, but rather as a symptom of circumstance. Like all of Young's characters, Pao is strong, memorable, and easy for the reader to relate to. In just 270 pages, we follow most of Pao's life. We see him as a child, as a teenager, a young man, a middle-aged man, and as an elder. Although multigenerational novels are hard to do in short manuscripts, Young seems to succeed, and what we end up seeing in Pao is a totally "round" character, one who transforms and changes in many ways through the pages of the book.

Kerry Young creates memorable characters: Zhang as the wise man, Pao as the always musing good "bad" boy, Cecily, the African Jamaican married to a Chinese man who rules over her privileged household and holds insecurities to herself, and Gloria, the bright, loving, practical, and very vital prostitute who creates a balance in Pao's life.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ripple on December 7, 2011
Format: Paperback
In her Costa Prize short-listed first novel, Kerry Young brings together a huge number of elements that make up a good story. Set in Jamaica, the time period covers 1938 to almost present day, it is the political backdrop of independence and control over Jamaica's assets that informs much of the story. But while the politics of Jamaica resound throughout the book, it's also a very personal story about the life of the eponymous Yang Pao. Issues of race, class, love, family, ambition and business philosophy - Pao's guiding light is Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" - are skillfully woven into the mix.

One of the first things that you notice is that because the story is narrated by Pao, it is all told in his own dialect form of English. To illustrate with a sentence at random: "Him no say nothing to me". She also interchanges "you" and "yu" - although quite what the difference is was lost on me. Some will undoubtedly find that irritating, and I confess that after longer periods of reading I did sort of yearn for a full, grammatical sentence, but in truth your mind quickly becomes attuned to the style and the meaning is always clear. I had more of a struggle with the dialogue in that there does not appear to be much difference between the style of language between those of Chinese and African-Jamaican origin. However, with the author's Chinese/Jamaican heritage, I can only assume that it's totally accurate.

Pao runs a protection business in Chinatown. He's sort of like a small time version of Tony Soprano. As so often with gangster-based literature, he has a moral element and is nice to his mother in a sort of Reggie Kray way, and sees himself almost as a Robin Hood figure.
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