Posted in Fiction

World and Town by Gish Jen

Who are we, indeed. I cannot say you have convinced me, and if you will forgive me for putting on my scientist hat, I must point out that we humans are prone to superstition. We’re wired to seek cause and effect whether it’s there or not – to make “sense” of things even if the result is nonsense. But never mind. Insofar as your thinking appears to have little to do with the less tenable tenets of Confucianism, and more to do with tradition and hope and humility and coping…I will meet the bone picker this weekend.

The intricate plot of Gish Jen’s novel World and Town doesn’t seem to be anti-religion but it does point out what might be considered inconsistencies, hypocrisies and nonsensical aspects of the way many religion-followers go about their religion. The criticisms also are equal opportunity. More than just one religion come together for critical analysis.

Hattie Kong, the 70 year-old protagonist and scientist, considers herself Unitarian but is a member of a walking group with ladies of varying faiths: an ex-nun, a fundamentalist Christian, an evangelical Christian who is quick to point out she is different from fundamentalists. Hattie gets new neighbors in the form of a Cambodian family who are Buddhist and deals with her Confucian relatives in Hong Kong who want the remains of Hattie’s parents to be brought back to Mainland China to be buried.

While the combining of all these religions can seem a little forced at times, I have to give the author credit for making the characters all fully realized and not just stereotypes used to fit her purposes and ultimately telling a story worth telling.

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