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Who's Irish?

Jen, Gish

561 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0375406212 / ISBN 13: 9780375406218
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1999
Condition: Very Good + Hardcover
From Black Falcon Books (Wellesley, MA, U.S.A.)

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About this Item

First edition, stated. Jacket design by Chip Kidd. Inscribed and signed by the author on the half-title page: "To C-- / With affection, & gratitude, & esteem. Luke and I will remember you always. / X Gish." Luke is Jen's son. The book is unmarked; spine slant; corners sharp, tail of spine lightly bumped. The dust jacket is price-clipped; Brodart protected. Size: 8vo - over 7" - 9" tall. Bookseller Inventory # 001890

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Who's Irish?

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, New York

Publication Date: 1999

Binding: Hard Cover

Book Condition:Very Good +

Dust Jacket Condition: Very Good +

Signed: Signed by Author

Edition: First Edition.

About this title


In eight wonderfully alive stories, the acclaimed author of Mona in the Promised Land and Typical American chronicles Chinese and other Americans as they exuberantly win, lose, love, hate, overachieve, underachieve, and generally take on America--with sometimes comic, sometimes heartbreaking results.

Life now is not what it was a generation ago, but is it any easier? A Chinese-American woman attempts to discipline her Chinese-Irish-American grandchild, only to come up against her daughter's state-of-the-art parenting. A grown man flees to China to escape his disapproving mother, "who called every day, lest he forget she was not speaking to him." A computer expert accidentally books himself into a welfare hotel. A bohemian art student turned young mother finds herself entrenched in PTA meetings and soccer games when her WASP husband opts out and takes off for the woods. A family takes its first comically disastrous steps toward joining a country club. The stories in Who's Irish? prove once again that Gish Jen is an essential writer for our time--a writer who moves and entertains us as she updates the American Dream.


Nobody writes about the immigrant experience like Gish Jen. What sets her apart from other ethnic writers is the wide-angle lens she turns not only on her own Chinese American ethnic group, but on Jewish Americans, African Americans, Irish Americans, and just about any other hyphenate you'd care to name. Though her tales are filtered through an Asian experience, they are, at heart, the quintessential American story of immigration, assimilation, and occasional tensions with other ethnic communities. The title story, for example, is a neat variation on a time-worn theme: mothers and daughters. The narrator is an elderly Chinese woman whose thoroughly assimilated daughter, Natalie, has married into an Irish American family. Natalie is successful; her husband, John, is not. Natalie's mother comments early on:

I always thought Irish people are like Chinese people, work so hard on the railroad, but now I know why the Chinese beat the Irish. Of course, not all Irish are like the Shea family, of course not. My daughter tell me I should not say Irish this, Irish that.
The narrator has other thoughts on the Irish question as well, including the connection between national diet and world view: "Plain boiled food, plain boiled thinking," she says of John, then adds that "because I grew up with black bean sauce and hoisin sauce and garlic sauce, I always feel something is missing when my son-in-law talk." But it soon becomes apparent that the problems between the narrator and her daughter's family are less cultural than generational, and in the end the mother forms a surprising alliance.

Jen comes at the question of identity from another angle in "Duncan in China," in which a second-generation Chinese American man returns to Mainland China to teach English. Here she manages to delicately suggest the enormity of the differences between the very American Duncan and his Chinese students, coworkers, and relatives. And in "Birthmates" she places her computer programmer protagonist, Art Woo, in close proximity to the low-income, mostly black residents of a welfare hotel that he's accidentally checked into. Class, race, gender, and job security all figure into this brilliant, subtle story that looks at the dark side of the American dream and finds that failure comes in all colors. These eight stories are sharply written, filled with humor, pathos, and more than a few surprising twists and turns. Quite simply, Who's Irish? is a delight. --Alix Wilber

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