05 Jul / Tomorrow in Shanghai by May-lee Chai [in Booklist]
In her newest story collection, May-lee Chai (Useful Phrases for Immigrants, 2018) shifts dexterously between the personal and the fantastical. Four of the eight stories feature autobiographical stand-ins who are, like Chai, the daughter of a Chinese father and white mother whose formative years are defined by ignorance, bigotry, and family dysfunction.
Difficult mother-daughter relationships haunt “Hong’s Mother” and “Jia.” “White Rabbits” and “Slow Train to Beijing” place the protagonists in Nanjing, where Chai also spent a year abroad. Chai shifts outward in “Tomorrow in Shanghai,” portraying a doctor financing his “imminent marriage” by harvesting the organs of executed prisoners.
In “Life on Mars,” a Chinese teen sent to the U.S. learns that his first lessons will be about race, privilege, and money. Two grad-school friends feel powerless against their sexual-predator professor in “The Monkey King of Sichuan.” Chai turns speculative in “The Nanny,” in which clones and cyborgs might be the best option for creating families.
Deftly woven throughout is the universal longing for connection, between children and parents, wannabe and established lovers, even man and machines.