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Monkey Hunting Hardcover – April 15, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
The Chinese-Cuban experience is plumbed in this graceful third novel by Garcia (Dreaming in Cuban; The Aguero Sisters), encompassing five far-flung generations, four countries and two tumultuous centuries. Farm boy Chen Pan leaves his native China in 1857, dreaming of the riches awaiting him in mysterious Cuba. Instead, he is obliged to work on a sugarcane plantation, subjected to the atrocities of forced servitude in a country that is not his own and in which he is viewed with suspicion. He eventually manages to escape and creates a life for himself beyond his wildest dreams, as a successful small-business owner, beloved husband and doting father. Becoming almost more Cuban than Chinese, he falls in love with Lucrecia, a former slave. His mixed-blood descendants, scattered between Cuba and China, struggle to find their place in a world that strives to keep its ethnic and geographical boundaries distinct. Chen Fang, a granddaughter raised as a boy in China, is a remarkable woman who manages to get an education and become a teacher, eventually landing in one of Mao's appalling prisons in 1970 Shanghai. As a teenager, great-grandson Domingo Chen departs Cuba for New York with his father and faces the same hostility and racism there that Chen Pan dealt with in mid-19th-century Havana. Domingo's journey from Cuba to New York then Vietnam is told in unsparing detail, bringing the novel full circle. Though Garcia ranges farther afield here than in previous works, her prose is as tight and polished as ever. The book is rather short for its span, and a bit more development of some characters-particularly Chen Fang-would have been welcome, but that is a mere quibble. Garcia's novel is a richly patterned mini-epic, a moving chorus of distinct voices.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Garcia, of Dreaming in Cuban (1992) and The Aguero Sisters (1997) renown, writes pristinely lyrical and enchanting prose, and creates powerfully alluring characters, delectable qualities she takes to new heights in this many-faceted tale about an extended Chinese Cuban family. The novel begins in China in 1857 when Chen Pan is tricked into indentured servitude and shipped to Cuba where he is sold as a slave and put to work cutting sugar cane. Strong and resilient, he eventually escapes and becomes a successful and upright Havana businessman who gallantly liberates a mulatto slave, Lucrecia, and her infant son. In between passages devoted to Chen Pan and Lucrecia, who eventually become lovers, Garcia travels back to China to tell the harrowing tale of Chen Fang--an unwanted third daughter disguised as a son in her youth and deprived of everything she holds dear as an adult once the communists come to power--then moves on to 1960s Vietnam, where Domingo, the son of a Chinese Cuban herbalist, barely survives the war. Gorgeously detailed and entrancingly told, erotic, mystical, and wise, Garcia's bittersweet saga of a family of remarkable individuals spans a century of displacement, war, and sacrifice, and a world of forbearance and love. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Cuba had a sizable population of Chinese immigrants. This novel gives an insight into one such man, Chen Pan, and his assimilation into Cuban society while retaining his cultural roots and customs. The trajectory of the story allows us to learn about these customs and those of Cuban society at the time (19th century) through unusual characters: they're not charming, they're not funny, nor are they particularly heroic or virtuous. They're just vivid on the page. The same can be said of Cristina Garcia's most recent book, "a Handbook to Luck." She is a talented writer.
Initially, I found this novel was somewhat boring. It started slow, and many of the Chinese names were wrong and mixed-up. Most of the current overseas Chinese were originally from Southern part of China, with its original Chinese provinces of Kwangtung (Guangdong) and Hokkien (Fujian). These people mainly communicate in their local dialects, not the Chinese Mandarin language. Thus, Miss Garcia has mixed up some of these and also usage of Chinese pinyin (characters written in Latin.)
However, after reading more pages, I found that regardless of some inferior namings, the writer did not falter in depicting Chen Pan and his ancestors. The plot was intertwined with stories between centuries and periods. Chen Pan lived during the late 1800s to early 1900s. Whereas his final ancestor in this story, Domingo, during the Vietnam war era in the US and Vietnam.
Chen Pan was a slaved, who ran away from his plantations and freed up an African slave, who later became his beloved wife.
If you like romance and history, this is one novel not to miss. I give it a five-star, since I liked it so much!