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The Eighth Promise: An American Son's Tribute to His Toisanese Mother Paperback – November 27, 2007


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Rodale Books; First Edition edition (November 27, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594868115
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594868115
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #840,114 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. While many immigrants are focused on assimilation, Lee's mother, Poy Jen Lee, came to America with a different agenda. In 1948, Poy Jen agreed to leave Suey Wan, her Toisan village in the Pearl River delta of China, to come to America as the wife of a Toisanese-American man. Before leaving, she made eight promises to her mother, among them that she'd find good husbands for her sisters and arrange immigration papers for her mother and brother; teach her children Chinese and Toisan customs, so they'd know their heritage; keep clan sisterhood strong; and cook traditional medicinal soups. The eighth promise bound Poy Jen to the fundamental Toisan ethos, "to live her life in complete compassion" for all people—her family, her Chun clan sisterhood and her larger community. In this remarkable memoir, mother and son, in alternating chapters, tell the story of their life in San Francisco's Chinatown from the 1950s to the present. Between American racism and power struggles in the Chinese community, it's a tribute to Toisan endurance that Poy Jen not only held her family together but also brought her children back to China to fortify their clan connection. Fans of Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston shouldn't hesitate to embrace this formidable matriarch and the son she taught to cook her chi soups. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Born in San Francisco's Chinatown in 1951 to Chinese American parents, Lee attends Chinese-language school every day after his American school, and grows up with the handed-down teachings of his Toisanese (southeastern Chinese) mother embedded in his psyche. When he finally visits her ancestral village as an adult, he discovers the clan culture she has so faithfully described still thriving there. The women still carry out the marriage promises they made to their mothers, just as his mother did to her mother, especially the eighth and last promise: to live with compassion toward others. Upon his return he tapes 30 hours of conversation with his reminiscing mother, and intersperses his own words with her memories to create this enlightening, thought-provoking memoir. She shares centuries-old wedding traditions and soups to make strong, healthy offspring; he writes of getting involved in San Francisco's counterculture scene, including organizing the first Chinese American civil-rights march. Lee's story is part multigenerational saga and part tale of race-fueled political turmoil, fused with a refreshingly honest portrayal of a timeless mother-son bond. Deborah Donovan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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See all 19 customer reviews
Concise, to the point, and humble, I recommend Lee's writing very highly.
Rick Hanson
This book gives a small account of the author and his family's life growing up in San Francisco's Chinatown.
JK
The book touches our heart and challenges our mind with the trials and tribulations of life.
D. Hernandez

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Jana McBurney-Lin on September 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I was drawn to The Eighth Promise, as I automatically veer towards any books related to China. Then I realized that this wasn't just about China, but about America as well. The author grew up in San Franscisco's Chinatown during quite volatile times--the Vietnam war, Civil Rights protests, Chinatown wars. I was fascinated by this history which he so vividly brought to life. Then, a terrible thing happened to his family, a terribly unjust, unfair thing that you would hope doesn't happen in America. I was moved to tears by the grace with which they dealt with this horrible injustice.
The Eighth Promise is an insightful book about Chinese Culture, American history during the 60's, 70's, and most importantly, grace in the face of injustice.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on June 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Born in San Francisco in 1951 to Toisanese (Southern Chinese) immigrant parents, Lee visited his mother's ancestral village in 1983 and had an epiphany, which sparked "a slow reintegration of self. Until that day, I had always felt as if I had been dropped out of the sky....focused exclusively on an American future that was unconnected to my parents' past."

In Toisan he marvels at his relatives' "free and easy body language, as natural as that of any free people and so unlike the reserved, contracted bodies of many Chinese Americans."

San Francisco's Chinatown evolved out of generations of despised and abused Chinese immigrants. Lee comes to understand this and the role the closed Chinatown community played in the trials of his own family.

But another dozen years pass before Lee takes to heart his mother, Poy Jen's, lessons. On leaving China to marry a naturalized American-Toisanese Poy Jen made her mother eight promises, mostly to do with maintaining tradition and finding husbands for her sisters.

But the eighth promise - to live life "in complete compassion" strikes Lee "as the distillation of all the wisdom of my kin," simple people at the mercy of nature and each other, who maintained harmony through this philosophy. Looking back he sees how his mother painstakingly fulfilled each promise, especially the eighth. As his respect for her quiet perseverance grows, he decides to tell her story in tandem with his own.

The memoir takes shape in alternate chapters.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Randy on May 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read this book with my bookclub. The hostess knew William and invited him to join us, so we had the pleasure of meeting the author! He is extremely interesting and articulate. His book is a fabulous journey of discovery. The stories his mother tells are truly amazing. The manner in which he presents the 2 different voices is extremely successful, alternating between his story and his mother's. The culture of Southern China, which formed the basis for his mother's story, is inspiring. The 8 promises (and especially the 8th) are equally applicable to today's world and would change the world if everyone allowed themselves to follow them! Don't miss this book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Arthur Lee on August 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
William Poy Lee wrote a book that deeply moved me. My parents are Toisanese. My mother's roots are from Hoisin, the city that William visited on his explorations of family roots. My father's roots are deep in the Chung-lau village nearby. My father told me stories of tending the water buffalo, getting firewood, laying down manure, etc. A lot of tough farm chores. He left home at 14 and became a paper-son to come to New York in 1952. He was detained on Ellis Island for six months before entering the world of Chinatown, Seward Park High School, waiting tables, serving as a printer's apprentice, and other odd jobs, in the lower east side.

I grew up in Hong Kong and New York City's Chinatown. Because my mother was educated in Hong Kong, I was raised speaking Cantonese but I understand fully Toisanese as she spoke both. My mother's world for many years revolved around the garment factories -- the sweat shops. William Lee's stories of Chinatown San Francisco spoke to me. They are so much like how I saw things growing up in New York City, with its own variations. William's stories of Wah Ching youths, the associations, and political changes recalled for me events and people of New York's Chinatown. My friends and I lived through the times of some of the worst effects of these changes as well. But like others of that time, we also found much simple pleasures, even if we did not know it then, of playing basketball underneath the rising span of the Manhattan bridge, or just hanging out at the park on Forythe Street, or in the heart of Chinatown --Columbus Park.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By SF Maven on April 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was referred to this book by a Chinese American friend, and I just loved it. Since I live in San Francisco, I was very interested in the fascinating history of early Chinatown with sad parts about corrupt politics and gang violence, the latter taking a personal toll on the author's family. The most fascinating part, however, had to do with Lee's mother, a remarkable Toisan female leader. His realization of her unique leadership of the community, and the values of the Toisan clan were moving and important. I must say that I have been referring the book to everyone I know, Asian or not. It was a moving book that I really enjoyed.
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