Sally Wang, the 27-year-old daughter of highly educated (her widowed mother is a Yale professor) immigrant parents, quits her job as an art director in New York City. Her depression leads her to a suicide attempt and admission into a mental hospital, where she begins to come to terms with her memories of sexual abuse by her father (the "Monkey King"). Continuing to struggle with the need to cut herself as a way of feeling alive, Sally begins to re-explore her relationship to the world through her painting and begins shattering well-kept family secrets on her way towards healing.


This novel raises important issues around incest and especially in educated, immigrant families (in this instance, Chinese-American). Sally's recovery is difficult and long, but Chao renders its complexity well. Sally's therapist, Valerie, is a compassionate and tough-minded ally in her recovery. "Some memory you keep underneath, so you can get on with your life. It doesn't work," says Sally (116). Recovering memories, learning more about her family, coming to terms with her difficult sister, and confronting her mother all become enabling agents of Sally's healing.

As Sally struggles in therapy and begins telling the truth about her experience within the family, she begins to heal from the depression and tendency toward self-mutilation. The role her art plays in her healing is quite wonderful, and Sally learns finally to funnel the pain and the pleasure into making art rather than depression and self-destruction." Three months ago I'd wanted to leave this world. In the hospital they told us that pain is something you experience and then put behind you. I disagree. I think you hold everything, pain and pleasure, in your heart, and that memory only deepens the next experience" (307).



Place Published

New York



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