Focusing on the Chinese community in Canada, these vivid and poignant stories tell us something about the place of home and memory in our lives. Whether her characters find themselves caught between the life they left behind and the lonely realities of their new life in Canada, or torn between the traditions of the past and a desire to shape their own futures, Bates captures their struggles and triumphs with compassion and insight.
Among the eight stories: The arrival of a beautiful mail-order bride incites a treacherous mix of jealousy and suspicion between two brothers. After years of sacrifice, an elderly woman seizes a last chance for happiness when she moves into a home of her own. For the sake of her family, a young woman must navigate her way through the unfamiliar demands of Chinese tradition after she elopes with her Canadian boyfriend. Richly textured, China Dog reminds us of the universal yearning for understanding and acceptance.
When I first met Sam Sing, he was already in his seventies; he had a head of thick, almost totally black hair parted at the side. He seemed robust and alert, and for a man his age he moved with amazing agility. My parents told me that Sam owed his exceptionally good health to drinking medicinal turtle soup made with Gilbey’s gin. According to local legend, whenever Sam felt unwell, he asked a couple of local teenage boys to catch him a turtle from the nearby creek. The two boys arrived through the back door of the kitchen with a bulging burlap bag. Once, when I was in the dining room, I saw Sam give the boys a silver fifty-cent piece each from the cash register. The freckle-faced boys looked at each other and giggled, then left, clutching their coins. Sam stared after them, his eyes dark with contempt. I just barely heard the “hrump” he let out under his breath as he shut the money drawer. The older son walked into the dining room and as the wooden door swung away to and fro behind him, I caught a glimpse into the kitchen. The younger son held a cleaver over his head, poised to come crashing down on the squirming, unsuspecting, overturned turtle. The pieces of turtle meat were tossed into a large pot of water along with medicinal herbs, preserved as roots, and dried gecko lizard. Then followed hours of simmering to produce a clear, brown, pungent, tonic soup.
Because of their work in the restaurant, Sam and his sons smelled faintly of cooking oil, in the same way, I suppose, that my father smelled of soap. Sam and his sons dressed alike. They wore white cotton shirts with the sleeves rolled up to their elbows and baggy black pants. And each wore a flat white half-apron tied around his waist.
Sam was proud of the fact that he had fathered two sons who would carry on his business and family name. In contrast to Sam’s stern, imposing demeanour, his sons were round-faced, smooth-skinned, and smiling. They reminded me of bookends; they looked almost identical, except that one was very fair-skinned, while the other was very dark. Ken, the younger son looked after the kitchen, where he cooked French fries, hot beef and hot chicken sandwiches, fluorescent red sweet and sour chicken balls, and assorted chop sueys. John, the older son, spent his days rushing back and forth through the swinging wooden doors that separated the dining room from the kitchen, reporting customers’ orders, and then cheerfully carrying out their dishes.
John always greeted the restaurant guests enthusiastically. He smiled and gushed in his broken English. Sam Sing spoke only when the customers lined up at the cash register, and then it was to blurt out the price of their meal. John often seemed embarrassed by his father’s gruffness; there was an unspoken apology in his own exceptional friendliness.
“That a writer of Judy Fong Bates’s compassionate talent will add her voice to be heard, and will tell her stories with such insight and frankness, will add to our perceptions of what it is to be human. These stories bear the telling, for they remind us that we are, each of us, the Other.”
“Judy Fong Bates is a skilled storyteller whose stories shine a light on a remote corner of society where Chinese Diaspora meets Canadian mosaic.”
“An exemplary collection. As in Margaret Laurence’s superb collection A Bird in the House, Bates’s deceptively simple narratives expose the hopes and hardships that define her characters’ lives.”
“Vivid and memorable.… [These stories] transcend cultural barriers, striking a common chord with people of other ethnic groups who have followed similar routes to this new country we call home.”
“Sometimes you come across an author whose work is just there: all the parts fit together like a fine machine, care is lavished upon each story – and it shows. Ultimately, these stories have an impact on your life, something that each writer strives for.”
“Absolutely captivating.… Bates weaves a complex display of human dynamics.”
“Entertaining … [these stories] provide entry into an intricate world of Chinese traditions, curses, migrations, ghosts, and dreams of Gam Sun (“Gold Mountain”).”
“Judy Fong Bates’s debut short-story collection is absolutely irresistible.… [Bates has] a fully authoritative voice, reminiscent of Amy Tan’s. All of the characters in this well-crafted collection are seeking the right balance between assimilation and identity loss, and Jody Fong Bates’s first-rate effort to tell their stories will surely bring her good fortune.”
“Bates delivers stories you can touch and taste.”
“Bates’s spare, imagery-rich prose will transport you.…”