All That Matters

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9780385257770: All That Matters

Kiam-Kim is three years old when he arrives by ship at Gold Mountain with his father and his grandmother, Poh-Poh, the Old One. It is 1926, and because of famine and civil war in China, they have left their village in Toishan province to become the new family of Third Uncle, a wealthy businessman whose own wife and son are dead. The place known as Gold Mountain is Vancouver, Canada, and Third Uncle needs help in his large Chinatown warehouse. Canada’s 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act forces them, and many others, to use false documents, or ghost papers, to get past the ‘immigration demons’ and become Third Uncle’s Gold Mountain family.

This is the beginning of All That Matters, the eagerly anticipated sequel to Wayson Choy’s bestselling first novel, The Jade Peony. The author takes us once again to the Vancouver of the 1930s and 1940s to follow the lives of the Chen family, this time through the experiences of First Son, Kiam-Kim, whose childhood and adolescence in a strict but caring Chinatown family is at once strange and familiar to us.

Like many families around them, they must survive in unsavoury surroundings. Since the closing down of the railroad work camps, Chinatown is filled with unemployed labourers who live in poor rooming-houses. Sea winds fill the rooms with acrid smoke from the mills and refineries of False Creek, and freight trains shake their windows at night with noises the Old One says are dragons playing. Yet this is a land where the Chen family will not starve; where they will be able to keep a girl baby, and not sell her into servitude as was the Old One, whose back is scarred from whippings.

In their new life, however, there is a constant struggle to balance the new Gold Mountain ideas with the old traditions and knowledge of China. Old One doesn’t like Kiam-Kim to speak English, and Kiam-Kim knows that to be without manners, without a sense of correct social ritual, is to bring dishonour to one’s family. Children who lose their ‘Chinese brains’ are called ‘bamboo stumps’ by the elders because of the hollow emptiness within, so Kiam-Kim must study hard at Chinese school as well as English school. He must help Poh-Poh to cook for her mahjong ladies, and her hard knuckles rap his head when he misbehaves.

Although Poh-Poh urges him to stick with his own kind and not let non-Chinese ‘barbarians’ into the house, Kiam-Kim forges a lasting friendship with Jack O’Connor, the Irish boy next door. He also has a girlfriend, Jenny, daughter of one of the mahjong ladies who owns a corner grocery shop. Meanwhile, China is suffering during the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, and soon the whole world is at war. Boys at school are enlisting, and many Chinese have gone back to fight for the old country. Kiam-Kim wonders, “What world would we fight for?” Canada is his home, yet he knows that the new country does not want Chinese soldiers.

The Jade Peony, was “a genuine contribution to history as well as fiction” according to author Margaret Drabble. It spent 26 weeks on the Globe and Mail bestseller list, shared the 1995 Trillium Award with Margaret Atwood, and won the Vancouver Book Award. Blending rich historical detail with powerful personal stories, All That Matters follows Kiam-Kim as he learns the responsibilities and rewards of family and community, as he approaches adulthood in a city much divided, and as he faces decisions about what truly matters in life. More than anything else, the novel is an exploration of his character. “I think all stories should arise organically from the characters’ definitions of the world,” says Wayson Choy, who believes that it is in the identification of reader with character that literature exists. “If you give details that ring true...that’s the meaning conveyed by good writing.”

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From the Inside Flap:

From Wayson Choy comes All That Matters, the long-awaited sequel to the bestselling and award-winning The Jade Peony.

The Master said: "In words, all that matters is to express truth." -- The Analects of Confucius

Set in Vancouver's Chinatown in the 1930s and 1940s, Choy continues the story of the Chen family household, this time narrated by First Son, Kiam-Kim. We first meet Kiam-Kim at the age of eight, staring at the yellowed photograph of his mother, who died in China when he was just a baby. Kiam-Kim, Poh-Poh (his larger-than-life grandmother) and Mr. Chen, his demure and honest father, journey to a new life in Vancouver's Old Chinatown. Following the dream of finding gold and then one day returning to China -- wealthy -- they, like many Chinese families around them, find themselves in a country on the brink of the Second World War, struggling to survive in a foreign land and keep alive the traditions of an older world.

Finely-crafted and rich in historical detail, All That Matters depicts 1930s Vancouver in the haunting hues of memory, and sees in the Chen family a fragile miniature of a larger world. Dwelling on Kiam-Kim's sense of responsibility to his community, Choy unfolds the Chen family's secrets in thoughtful and luminous prose, leading the reader to a breathtaking conclusion that far transcends the limits of its time and place, and gestures towards all humanity.

From the Back Cover:

Praise for The Jade Peony and Paper Shadows:
"Rich . . . delightful . . . Choy ranges over this familiar territory with a fresh eye."
--New York Times Book Review

"A sweet and funny novel . . . beautifully written. . . . It renders a complex and complete human world, which by the end of two-hundred-odd pages we have learned to love."
--The Boston Book Review

"This is a haunted memoir, full of phantoms and secrets, but it is also full of rich historical detail and sharp, clear descriptions of daily life. . . . The unknown is always an alluring prospect, but this book suggests that what counts in the end is a more ordinary reality, the patience and forgiveness and sense of responsibility that make daily family life possible. . . . In the era of the talk-show memoir, in which telling it all passes for telling it well, Paper Shadows stands out as a thoughtful, luminous and finely crafted work."
--The Globe and Mail

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