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Steer Toward Rock Hardcover – May 13, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This eagerly awaited follow-up to Fae Myenne Ng's first novel, Bone, again addresses the issues of Chinese-American identity in this moving, unflinching yet sometimes witty story. Jack Moon Szeto enters San Francisco in 1952, falsely posing as the son of Yi-Tung Gold Szeto, a registered U.S. citizen. In return, Jack must pay Szeto by working for two years and marrying a fake wife. Employed as a butcher, Jack takes the younger Joice Qwan as his lover. Even though she becomes pregnant, Joice refuses to marry Jack. Despondent, Jack attempts to nullify his contract with Szeto before entering the INS's Chinese Confession Program and renouncing his false identity, resulting in Szeto's deportation, but not citizenship for Jack. Toward the end, the story shifts to Jack's congenial relationship with his spirited daughter Veda, whose growing mission is to protect Jack by making him a naturalized U.S. citizen. Ng's simple, sturdy yet poetic prose is juxtaposed against the clinical language of Jack's immigration documents; the result is a nuanced portrayal of two generations and the many challenges they face in their quest for security and fulfillment. (May)
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From Booklist

Fifteen years after the publication of her critically acclaimed first novel, Bone, Ng returns to the scene, offering a searing portrait of another immigrant struggling to get by in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Butcher Jack Szeto spends long hours at his job, attempting to buy his freedom from Yi-Tung Gold Szeto. Jack entered the country illegally in 1952, posing as the son of the powerful entrepreneuer; in return, he must work off his debt and pretend to marry the much younger woman Yi-Tung wants to take as his second wife. Jack, however, has fallen in love with free-spirited Joice Qwan, and when she tells him she is pregnant with his child, he longs for the freedom to marry her. He decides to cooperate with the Chinese Confession program, telling them of his false identity, which results in Szeto’s deportation. ThoughYi-Tung exacts a terrible revenge and Joice refuses to marry him, Jack finds true serenity in the years spent raising their daughter. Ng brings to this moving story both a sensuous, poetic style and an understated tone that only serves to underline the immigrant struggle. --Joanne Wilkinson
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 255 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion; 1st edition (May 13, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786860979
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786860975
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #346,937 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Gretel Ehrlich on May 31, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Shakesperian in scope - tragic, haunting, beautifully rendered with a wild, intimate velocity pierced with uncarted wisdom. A perfect novel.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By D on June 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Fae Myenne Ng is a genius. Her prose is almost sparse, but each word, each phrase is so thoughtfully crafted that action and feelings are expressed in deft strokes that build a picture, an impression, a quality of being. Her book is full of compassion and reverence for the depiction of a familiar figure that is well known but not understood - our immigrant Chinese-American fathers/forefathers.

Like a master of pen and ink drawing, each line implies physical being and movement, emotional attitude and change, and spiritual orientation. The drawing moves from being lines on a page, to expressing 2 dimensions, 3 dimensions, then movement across time and space, to insightful awareness of the interior landscape of feeling, knowledge of life lessons, and living by your convictions and the experiences that shaped you.

The prose is so poetic; this is a work to be savored. The way to read this book is not quickly all the way through, but gradually, so the comprehension unfolds and you can appreciate the depth and quality of feeling.

For those who have grown up in San Francisco, esp. living by Chinatown, there are many familiar references to places (some that are no more), food and experiences that are delightful. There are also stories that are painful and brutal, but are nevertheless our truth in growing up here.

This is a story about a man and his interior landscape, his poetic romanticism shown in the language of his thoughts, cares and worldview. This is about a man shaped by harsh beginnings, his acts in a world that doesn't understand him and the consequences of his actions. His is a world peopled by garrulous cronies, powerful enemies, and the women he loves.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kimberly Roe on September 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Steer Toward Rock is an exquisitely written novel. It is a great read and I highly recommend it.

Fae Myenne Ng's concise prose is full of richness and insight. I felt compelled to read carefully, as I didn't want to miss anything. Her generational Chinese American characters have sharp and smart observations about themselves and their lives while living in San Francisco's Chinatown. They must navigate their way thru harsh realities during the McCarthy era, yet each character's journey is written with compassion; the joys, the obstacles and limitations voiced by indentured paper son immigrants and their fractured families.

However, the question what is worth sacrificing regardless of the consequences, is at the heart of the novel. What happens when one chooses to rid a false identity and begin creating a new one? What kinds of options are truly available? Is the potential for love worth risking deportment or freedom?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By DB on June 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I grew up in Chinatown and immediately identified with Ms. Ng's first book Bone. Friends would ask about other novels such as those by Amy Tan and I would reply "If you want an accurate portrait of what it is like being an Chinese-American in San Francisco, read Bone". Once again Ms. Ng has captured the essence of Chinatown, this time for the newly arrived immigrant Jack Szeto. This is not a quick read as chapters jump from different time periods(and not linearly) and characters. I found myself having to re-read chapters but by the end I was once again thoroughly impressed by Ms. Ng's ability to describe the Asian-American experience in the San Francisco.
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Format: Hardcover
At a horrific, life-changing moment, a Chinese immigrant in the United States under a false name and false pretenses thinks of some wisdom his mother had given him. He is about to be separated from his hand as two thugs drag him to a table saw, he remembers his mother's aphorism: "Trust rock, she told him. Break fear upon rock. ... Go toward fear. Trust fear. Steer toward rock." She told him this as she was preparing to sell him to an illegal immigration ring in the U.S.

So the young man, who must make payments to his mob boss for the right to live, sustains himself at this ghastly moment. And :Steer Toward Rock" becomes the aphorism by which this novel's characters must live if they want to find meaning, family, and happiness. Impressive for its sustained obliquity, Fae Myenne Ng's book brought me into the Chinese culture in San Francisco's Chinatown like no other book ever did. She stretches this culture taut across a frame of trans-Pacific exploitation and racketeering. We learn of the purchased boy from China whose name becomes Jack Moon Szeto, a multiple falsity rooted in a scheme to allow illegal entry to Chinese immigrants. Before confessing his status to the American authorities, he becomes another link in the illegal and oppressive chain. He must take a bogus bride purchased for him from China, but here he finds companionship and eventually fathers a fiery, headstrong daughter.

This entire history leads to the daughter. This is really her story - how she hasn't steered toward the rock of honesty in her love life, but does free her father from the tangled, fear-ridden narrative of his past by shepherding him through the naturalization process.

I love the conversations between the Chinese men in San Francisco.
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