The End of East by Jen Sookfong LeeThe End of East by Jen Sookfong Lee

The End of East

byJen Sookfong Lee

Paperback | March 11, 2008

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A moving portrait of three generations of the Chan family living in Vancouver’s Chinatown

Sammy Chan was sure she’d escaped her family obligations when she fled Vancouver six years ago, but with her sister’s upcoming marriage, her turn has come to care for their aging mother. Abandoned by all four of her older sisters, jobless and stuck in a city she resents, Sammy finds herself cobbling together a makeshift family history and delving into stories that began in 1913, when her grandfather, Seid Quan, then eighteen years old, first stepped on Canadian soil.

The End of East weaves in and out of the past and the present, picking up the threads of the Chan family’s stories: Seid Quan, whose loneliness in this foreign country is profound even as he joins the Chinatown community; Shew Lin, whose hopes for her family are threatened by her own misguided actions; Pon Man, who struggles with obligation and desire; and Siu Sang, who tries to be the caregiver everyone expects, even as she feels herself unravelling. And in the background, five little girls grow up under the weight of family expectations. As the past unfolds around her, Sammy finds herself embroiled in a volatile mixture of a dangerous love affair, a difficult and duty-filled relationship with her mother, and the still-fresh memories of her father’s long illness.

An exquisite and evocative debut from one of Canada’s bright new literary stars, The End of East sets family conflicts against the backdrop of Vancouver’s Chinatown – a city within a city where dreams are shattered as quickly as they’re built, and where history repeats itself through the generations.
Jen Sookfong Lee was born and raised in Vancouver’s East Side, where she now lives with her husband. Her poetry, fiction and articles have appeared in a variety of magazines, including The Antigonish Review, The Claremont Review, Horsefly and Jasmine. She was a finalist in the Stephen Leacock Poetry Contest and is included in the poetr...
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Title:The End of EastFormat:PaperbackDimensions:256 pages, 7.98 × 5.17 × 0.55 inPublished:March 11, 2008Publisher:Knopf CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0676978398

ISBN - 13:9780676978391

Reviews

Rated 4 out of 5 by from Resonance of humanity With the change of times, we would expect to see differences of the lives of three generations of any family, and such variation in attitude, education, values, and lifestyles is more dramatic for the lives of immigrants. The End of East dissects the trauma and beauty of early Chinese immigrants in Vancouver. I am amazed at the hardship, but mostly the resilience, the early immigrants had gone through. While we complains about misunderstanding brought by generation gaps, I sympathized with the additional culture shock accompanied by the uprooting of a family to a different country. Our world has changed so much. We are now living in a global village - everyone of us are more or less immigrants in the time and space we live. Hope you would enjoy this book and find the resonance of humanity.
Date published: 2017-07-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A good story A quick read for sure! I had to read this in one of my English classes but I still really enjoyed the story.
Date published: 2016-11-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Nice Story Samantha and Penny are sisters and Penny lives at home with their mother in Vancouver, British Columbia. Samantha has just flown in from Montreal where she has been living for the past 6 years and is feeling a bit jet lagged as she enters the yard at the back of the house. There is a crackling fire ablaze in the backyard and her mother is burning her grandfather’s old, woolly clothing. She is just champing-at-the-bit and orders Samantha inside to help her sister. There are 3 other sisters: Wendy, Jackie and Daisy of which Samantha is the youngest. Penny is on her hands and knees in her grandfather’s room ripping up the old red carpet that he brought over from his old apartment in Chinatown when he moved in. Mother is in a hurry to get rid of grandfather’s “junk” before Penny and Adam’s wedding because they’ll need that room for the tea ceremony. And mother isn’t happy that Penny is getting married so (in her terms), “quickly” and tells her she is an: “inconsiderate girl!” Penny doesn’t understand why mother is so upset, after all she has been engaged for a month and grandfather has been dead for ten years! She’s had 120 months to clean out his room. Penny figures her mother thought grandfather’s death wasn’t as important or as lucky as their father’s because it only took her one week to burn everything of his! While cleaning out his dresser, Samantha finds a yellowed document, cracked with age that read: “Chan Seid Quan...June 27, 1913 arrived at Vancouver, B.C. on the Empress of India.” She knew he kept this because he never wanted to forget when his new life began. He owned a barber shop in Chinatown. From here the story turns to grandfather and his arrival in Canada; his first job, his return to China to wed Shew Lin, and again for the birth of each of his 3 children, his trek back to Canada, and his takeover of the barber shop he would own and work in the rest of his life. I wasn’t sure at first whether I was going to like this novel or not but surprise, surprise, it provided such deep and insightful information about each of the characters that I was totally taken aback. The novel provoked contemplation and emotions without effort. A quick read and beautiful story.
Date published: 2011-05-13

Read from the Book

PrologueAt first, what frightened her about this place was the drizzle – the omnipresent grey of morning, afternoon, nighttime too. She was afraid that she would slowly be leached of colour and that, one day, while she was combing her hair in the mirror, she would see that her reflection was as grey as the sky, sea and land that surrounded her. Everything she saw as she moved about the city was filtered through the mist – dampened, weighed down, burdened.She would come home after a day in Chinatown and find her wool pants covered in tiny drops of water – cold, as if no human being had ever touched them before. If she didn’t brush them off, they would seep into the fabric until they chilled her skin and she shivered into the night, long after the dishes were washed and everyone else had gone to bed.In the summer, the sun finally emerged, dried up the puddles, opened flowers that had cowered in the rain. Buttercups shone in the light and multiplied in the lawn faster than she could dig them out. Children spat watermelon seeds over the porch railing, laughing at the squirrels who scurried across the lawn in fear. But every year, as winter returned, these days slipped from her memory. Too good to be true, perhaps. Too few to be important.One morning, she woke and realized that she had come to accept the drizzle, that she had grown resigned to the squelch of rubber boots, the smell of damp wool on the bus. She walked around the park in the mornings, a film of fine water on her cheeks and eyelashes. Soon, she could not start her day without washing her face in the mist, letting the coolness do away with the bad dreams from the night.And the half­light that lingered throughout the day let her believe that she was somewhere else, a dream-like netherworld in which anything might happen. Men could become lovers again. Women could be ageless. Children might even come back home.But what she settled for was the cool, wet breeze that came in through the windows, the air that straightened her spine as she walked. The way the drizzle stayed with her, soaked into her hair, her clothes, her sheets. It pushed itself onto her skin, huddled with her when she cried, remained cool even as she cooked at a blazing stove. Unshakeable. Like family.OneStanley Park"It is time," my mother says as she pulls me from the cab, "to run that old­man smell out of my house."As I haul my luggage out of the trunk, the smell of smouldering dust and gas fills the air, burning my nose and mouth. I follow my mother’s rapidly retreating body around the side of the house to the backyard, wondering if she has finally snapped and set one my sisters ablaze.In the driveway off the lane, she pokes angrily at a crackling fire with a metal garden rake; I catch my breath, holding my suitcase in front of me like a shield. Piles of my grandfather’s old, woolly clothes line the backyard and spill into the gravel alley, waiting to be tossed into the gassy flames. A light rain begins to fall, generating puffs of smoke that blow into my face. I cough, but she doesn’t seem to hear me above the snap and sizzle.Waving the rake in my direction, she shouts, "Take your suitcase upstairs and go help your sister." As I turn back toward the house, she slaps down a stray spark that has landed in her permed, greying hair.Once inside, I scan the front hall. The same rubber plant behind the door. My old slippers by the stairs. I breathe out, and cobwebs (suspiciously familiar) sway in the corners.My mother steps through the door after me, her hands on her wide hips. "What’s taking you so long? I thought I told you to run upstairs.""I’m jet­lagged," I mutter, kicking off my shoes.She inspects my face closely, staring at me through her thick glasses. "Jet-lagged? Montreal is only three hours ahead. Go. Penny is waiting." She spins me around with a little push and pokes me in the back with one sharp fingernail.I trudge up the stairs to my grandfather’s bedroom, where my sister is on her hands and knees, ripping out the nubby red carpet he brought over from his small apartment in Chinatown. Her long black hair drags on the sub-floor."Samantha," Penny says, pushing her bangs out of her eyes. "I feel like I’ve been waiting for you forever."My hands shake. I try to tell myself that it’s only the dampness in the air that’s causing this deep bone shiver. But, really, I am simply afraid. When I was sitting in the airplane, the idea of coming home didn’t seem so real or so final, and I could pretend that I wasn’t passing over province after province. Standing here, in my grandfather’s old room, with my mother’s footsteps coming up quickly behind me, I know that I have irrevocably returned."We have to get rid of your grandfather’s junk before the wedding. We’ll need his bedroom for the tea ceremony," my mother says, pushing me aside to inspect the closet. She turns to Penny: "I don’t know why you have to get married so fast. I’m too old to run around like this. Inconsiderate girl." She lets out a loud breath, punctuating her rapid, angry Chinese with a huff."Grandfather’s been dead for ten years, Mother," Penny says quietly in English, as usual. "And we’ve been engaged for almost a month. You’ve had plenty of time."She waves her hand. "Why do I think you’ll understand? I’ve had other things to do, like look after all you girls by myself."Penny looks at me with her round, seemingly innocent eyes and shrugs.

Bookclub Guide

1. When Samantha returns home, one of the first things she stumbles upon is her grandfather’s Head Taxcertificate, paid in 1913.• How did the Head Tax and Chinese Exclusion Act affect the inner, emotional lives of the Chan family?• What effect, if any, have these immigration policies had on Sammy and her contemporary life?2. Early on in the book, Sammy thinks, “I nod and see relief on [Penny’s] round face--the loosening of themuscles around her eyes and mouth. I wonder if I looked the same when I left Vancouver for Montreal sixyears ago, delirious with the kind of happiness only escape can bring.”• What do you think Sammy has been trying to escape?• Have you ever felt a similar impulse?• Do you think Sammy and her sisters as well as Siu Sang are capable of change?3. Seid Quan’s story begins as he is leaving the boat that has taken him from China to Vancouver. “He fearsthat the stink will be mistaken for the smell of China, but he does not know how to say that there would beno smell if Canada never was, if the boats were not so full of desperation, men trading one kind of povertyfor another.”• What do you think this means?• Do you think that this kind of fear and anger is common to people who leave a disadvantaged countryfor one like Canada?4. Seid Quan and his friend Lim share the same origins, but the trajectories of their lives are completelydifferent.• What do you think Seid Quan learns from Lim’s experiences?• Whose vision of Canada and what can be achieved here do you think is the most realistic, or the mostpractical?5. Seid Quan finds himself in the thick of Chinatown’s “bachelor society” where he is compelled to be a leader.• What do you think would be more difficult: being a man in an unfamiliar country without your family,or being one of the women left behind, raising children without a father?6. Sammy and her sisters have a conflicted and strained relationship, each of them trying to push theresponsibility of looking after their mother on to someone else.• What do you think it would take for all five of the Chan sisters to mend their relationship?7. At Penny’s wedding, Sammy takes off with the bartender.• Why do think she does this?8. When Pon Man arrives in Vancouver to live with his father, their relationship is strained from the verybeginning.• What do you think is the reason that Seid Quan and Pon Man can never really connect emotionally?• What is it about Seid Quan that Pon Man resents so much?9. After several years in Vancouver, Pon Man reflects that “everyone, like him, wants to escape this city, fordespite the trees and mountains and pure water, Vancouver is as cold and hard at its core as anywhere else in Canada.”• What do you think he means by this?• Do the other characters in The End of East share the same thoughts about Vancouver?10. Sammy looks for, and finds, partners for disturbing and verging on violent sex.• Why do you think she does this?• Do you think it’s common for young women to use their bodies in this way?11. Siu Sang, as a young woman, accepts an arranged marriage to a man she’s never met who lives in a countryshe knows nothing about.• Why do you think she is willing to do this?• What is it about her personality that makes her so unquestioning?12. On the way to Vancouver, Siu Sang reflects that “there is nothing they can do if things do not turn out well,if their husbands begin to beat them, if they are deathly allergic to the Canadian air. They will have to stay,no matter what.”• How common do you think this feeling of helplessness is to married women in the past and today?• Are there parallels between this and the compulsion that marriages must remain intact for the children?13. Siu Sang struggles with her emotions during her pregnancy and after she gives birth.• Do you think she is suffering from post-partum depression or from a mental health issue that has beenlatent in her from the beginning?• What do you think are some issues related to pregnancy and childbirth that women don’t talk aboutenough?14. When Samantha finds herself bleeding after a sexual encounter, do you think she’s hit rock bottom?• What parallels do you see between this and Siu Sang’s experiences as a mother?15. Often, Shew Lin is purposely cruel to her daughter-in-law, thinking that these small cruelties will help herkeep her family together.• Do you think this is really Shew Lin’s intention, or is there a darker reason?• What similarities do you see between Shew Lin’s treatment of Siu Sang, and Siu Sang’s treatment of herown daughters?16. When Pon Man tells the very ill Shew Lin that Sammy has been born and looks just like him, Shew Lin replies,“Yes, that’s the right thing. She will do just as well. You must hold her as I would, as I held you.”• What do you think she means by this?• Is she hoping that Sammy will live to mend the emotionally fractured family?• Or does she think that Sammy will be just as good as a boy, and carry on the legacy of the Chan family,such as it is?17. After Sammy comes home from the hospital, Siu Sang attempts to start a real discussion with her. Sammy,however, isn’t quite ready to relate to her mother on this level.• What do you think is the reason Sammy is still afraid of an emotional connection with Siu Sang?18. Late in the book, Sammy says of Vancouver, “I walk this city every day, sidestep the garbage, hold my breaththrough the alleys. But even in the dirtiest of places, where the sidewalk is covered with gum and the hum oftraffic and city-noise is so loud that you can’t even hear your own footsteps, you can always look north andsee the mountains. And there’s always a breeze, faintly salt-scented, that touches your face as you turn tolook west.”• What role do you think Vancouver plays in The End of East?• What do you think the city means to Seid Quan, Pon Man, Shew Lin and Siu Sang?• What about Sammy?19. After voting at a clan association election, Pon Man returns to the car to wait for his father, uncomfortablewith the idea of wandering through the streets of Chinatown.• Do you think it’s common for immigrants and children of immigrants to be ashamed of where theycome from or their history?20. When Pon Man is very ill with cancer, “he wants to cry because his mind has become glue and sludge andbecause he knows he needs to be forgiven for something, but what? What will he ask for, and how can hewhen he can hardly speak anymore?”• What do you think it is he has forgotten?21. As an old man, Seid Quan thinks “of how a man can identify with his work, can say to people he meets, ‘I ama dentist,’ and know that it’s complete and true. ‘I am a barber,’ he says to himself, trying to remember whatit felt like. He feels nothing, thinks that perhaps I am lonely or I am arthritic might be closer to the truth.”• How do think Seid Quan thinks of himself? As a father, a community leader, a husband?• Do you think that any of the characters in The End of East are ever at ease with their identities?22. When Samantha meets her mother in Chinatown and resolves to go home with her, do you think that this is the beginning of a happier era for the Chan family?• Do you think Sammy and her sisters as well as Siu Sang are capable of change?

Editorial Reviews

An impressive debut novel that delves into the immigration experiences of three generations.Delivered in lyrical language radiating with apt metaphors, the story alternates between Sammy Chan’s modern-day life and her family’s past… An enrapturing exploration of identity that proves that family is unshakeable. - Kirkus Reveiw“Impressive, both in terms of its accomplished prose and its ambitious three-generational scope. . . . Lee’s talent is undeniable.” –National Post“Poetic. . . . Jen Sookfong Lee is aware of the dark side of mythmaking, its distorting and even parasitic price. It’s one of many things that make her a novelist to watch.” –Calgary Herald“An accomplished and complex story about the intricate set of issues that surround Chinese-Canadian identity, a story that will ring true for Canadians of other backgrounds.”–The Gazette (Montreal)“Richly layered . . . there is much to admire. . . . Jen Lee shows off a confident style, investing The End of East with rich imagery and well-wrought characters and deftly handling the complexities of the various storylines.” ––The Vancouver Sun"In this powerful first novel Jen Sookfong Lee moves fluently through the life of an immigrant family, speaking what remains unspoken between the generations. Observant and humane, The End of East shows us that within a family nothing ever really ends."–Thomas Wharton, author of Salamander"From China to Vancouver, past to present, The End of East beautifully guides us through the heart of the Chan family and the Chinese immigrant experience – charting dreams, regrets, hopes and triumphs along the way. Jen Sookfong Lee’s storytelling instincts are honest, unflinching and fearless."–Ami McKay, author of The Birth House"I am awestruck by Jen Sookfong Lee’s ambition in this, her first novel, an ambition that is fulfilled with power and grace. Whatever assumptions I had about Vancouver’s Chinatown have been supplanted by Lee’s vision of a world where family obligation is passed on through the generations, where personal dreams are sacrificed for family goals as a matter of course. It’s a world that is different, and yet so terribly similar to my own. The End of East is a wise, challenging and heartbreaking novel. And Jen Sookfong Lee is a novelist with the eye and ear and soul of a poet."–Gail Anderson-Dargatz, author of The Cure for Death by Lightning and A Recipe for Bees