A Long Stay in a Distant Land: A Novel

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9781596910348: A Long Stay in a Distant Land: A Novel

The Lums are cursed. Their early deaths come randomly, strangely, and often, be it by tainted cheeseburger or speeding ice cream truck. The most recent victim is Louis Lum's mother. Now Louis must move back home with his gangsta rap-obsessed father, Sonny, to prevent him from enacting the revenge he promises. But soon Louis's concern shifts to his uncle Bo Lum, who has disappeared in Hong Kong. As Louis's search progresses, the tragicomic story of three generations of Lums in America is revealed.

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Review:

Another entry in the ongoing rush of Asian-American novels about experiences in a world-not-Asian is A Long Stay in a Distant Land. Author Chieh Chieng was born in Hong Kong and moved to Orange County, California, when he was seven. He has cultivated an absolutely deadpan wit and sense of irony, and in this novel, at age 29, has made an auspicious debut.

The Lums, the Chinese-American family Chieng writes about, have a peculiar history. Too many of them suffer an untimely demise: Mom, 51, collision with a car driven by Hersey Collins; cousin Connie, 12, ate a bad cheeseburger; Aunt Julie, 29, stomach cancer; cousin Will, 16, heatstroke; Uncle Larry, 40, fell off a cliff; Grandpa Melvin, 62, struck by an ice cream truck. Louis, the narrator, knows why all this has happened. His Grandpa could have avoided going to WW II, but he saw a Popeye cartoon and was inspired by Popeye's bravery to enlist. "Grandpa had violated the fundamental law that one should not kill another. He'd had a choice. He could have chosen not to join the war and not to shoot people. For every man Grandpa had killed, Death had designated a Lum to be picked off." Who knew where it would end? And now, with the death of Louis's mother, his father, Sonny, is calling him daily to say that he wants to "run down Hersey Collins with his car, or crush his skull with a brick." Louis moves in with his father to keep an eye on him and discovers, in some of the funniest episodes in the book, that his father is a gansta rap-obsessed cuckoo.

One day Grandma Esther calls to tell him that Bo, Louis's uncle and her favorite son, has disappeared in the labyrinths of Hong Kong. Uncle Bo has absented himself for many years, but always kept in touch by filling out a check-list sent by his mother. Now, even that has stopped. Louis goes to Hong Kong to find Bo and, during his search, finds pieces of family history as seen through the eyes of three generations. Every family has stories, true and false, that become part of the dogma passed on to the next generation. In the last chapter, "The Dance of Good Fortune," Chieng leads us to believe that the Lum curse of early Death might be over and that story will become myth. --Valerie Ryan

About the Author:

Chieh Chieng graduated from the creative writing program at the University of California, Irvine, and has been published in Glimmer Train, the Threepenny Review, and the Santa Monica Review.

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