Monkey King tells the story of a young Chinese-American woman whose mental breakdown and sojourn in a hospital for rehabilitation sets her firmly on the path of memory. For 28-year-old Sally Wang has come to a dead stop in her life, and it is through her recollections of her childhood -- and the stories of her extended Chinese family -- that she manages to find the strength to pull herself back to the land of the living.
As we enter Sally's world, we meet a colorful array of characters: her grandmother Nai Nai, the aristocratic matriarch of the family; her parents, who are both marked by their immigrant experience; auntie Mabel and Uncle Richard, who love her like the daughter they never had; and Marty, Sally's beautiful sister, whose tough facade belies the frightened woman inside.
Sally's recovery takes place against a rich tapestry of culture and personality that unfolds before our eyes under the ghostly shadow of the Monkey King. For Sally has been living with a terrible family secret, and it is this burden that shattered her life. How she comes to terms with this betrayal and integrates her Chinese and American parts into a coherent personality are recounted with an honesty that is at once wry and refreshing. Monkey King is a stunning and memorable debut from a beautiful new writer.
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Recent novels by Chinese American authors often describe a world where private life is far messier than the public face families put on it. To an extent, Patricia Chao's debut novel, Monkey King follows this pattern: heroine Sally Wang's "perfect" life obscures a childhood riven by sexual abuse and secrecy. After attempting suicide, Sally must confront the past and lay her demons to rest. What separates Monkey King from other novels of its kind are the surprisingly sympathetic renderings of Sally's parents, the evocative portrayal of immigrants' sense of dislocation and loss, and the fine writing with which Patricia Chao brings Sally's world to life.About the Author:
Patricia Chao was born in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, the daughter of a Chinese father and a Japanese mother. At age five, Chao moved with her family to a suburb of New Haven, Connecticut, where her parents taught their respective languages at Yale University. She attended boarding school in Concord, Massachusetts, where she worked on the school literary magazine, was a cartoonist for the newspaper, and played the piano with dreams of becoming a folk singer or concert pianist.
Chao majored in creative writing at Brown University, and received the Rose Low Memorial Poetry Prize in her senior year. After graduation, she took a crash course in Mandarin and then moved to Beijing, where she worked for a year as an editor for a radio station. Upon returning to the U.S., she moved to New York City and worked as a medical editor. In 1987 she left her job and began freelance writing, a change which enabled her to focus on her fiction and poetry.
Patricia earned her M.A. in creative writing from New York University in 1992. It was at NYU, while studying with Mona Simpson and E.L. Doctorow, that Chao completed the first draft of what would become Monkey King.
Today, Patricia Chao teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in New York City.
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