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The End of East

by Jen Sookfong Lee

This debut novel by Jen Sookfong Lee offers an eloquent yet predictable look at the multigenerational experiences of a Chinese-Canadian family in Vancouver. While the prose is raw and the creative energy evident, Lee’s novel stays within conventional and claustrophobic narrative territory.

The story revolves on the fraught identity struggles of the Chan family, as they try to reconcile the competing claims of East and West. The death of the family patriarch, Seid Quan, prompts his granddaughter, Samantha Chan, to return to Vancouver to sift through the fluctuating and ambiguous fragments of the past. From her grandfather’s alienation in his adopted Canadian “home” to her mother’s disappointment at birthing five daughters and no sons, Samantha finds herself drawn to haunting and often painful memories that refuse to fade away.

As Samantha unearths these forgotten stories, she effectively situates her family within a history of social and legislated racism. Seid Quan arrives in Canada in 1913, six years after the race riots in Chinatown and a decade before the Chinese Immigration Act, which virtually excluded all Chinese immigrants from entering Canada. The pervasive sense of entrapment comes from a historical context that prevented Chinese Canadians from breaking out of a ghettoized Chinatown existence.

However, while the novel effectively captures this claustrophobia, it offers no alternative to the East/West opposition that it continually invokes. Canada and China are oceans apart, and the characters who are both Chinese and Canadian are lonely and adrift in identity confusion. Samantha, who represents the promise of a younger generation, turns to the oblivion of anonymous sex whenever she feels the pull of her familial relationships. It is left up to Lee’s prose, which occasionally glimmers beyond the confines of the novel’s safe narrative borders, to bring the book a sense of possibility.


Reviewer: Tara Lee

Publisher: Knopf Canada


Price: $29.95

Page Count: 256 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 978-0-676-97838-4

Released: March

Issue Date: 2007-3

Categories: Children and YA Non-fiction, Fiction: Novels