The Chinese Groove by Kathryn Ma

TitleThe Chinese Groove
AuthorKathryn Ma
Length304 pages
Notable InfoAmazon Editor’s Pick: Best Literature and Fiction
NY Times Book Review Editor’s Choice
People Magazine: A Best Book of the Year
Finished ReadingMay 19, 2023
RatingsPersonal: ★★★ (3 Stars)
Amazon: 4.3 Stars (391 Ratings)
Goodreads: 4.0 (1,924 ratings)

“Shelley” comes from a despised branch of the extended family tree in China; full of optimism he heads to America to live with his fabulously wealthy uncle in San Francisco who – he thinks – owns a large department store. Upon arrival, he discovers his uncle will only allow him to stay for two weeks. A bit later he learns that the stories back in China overstate his uncle’s position. He is not wealthy and no longer owns the small store his family had. Shelley makes friends and learns street smarts to survive. Trouble in the form of his cousin arrives from China and he struggles to start a romantic relationship with the daughter of his ESL teacher he met back home.

Through it all the protagonist faces his troubles with optimism, sure he will find the way through. The novel is in first person with a conversational tone. The character is well written as you can easily see how he can survive on his wits.

I read about this novel in the New York Times and chose it because it reminded me of A Map for the Missing, another novel of an immigrant from China who must face issues from his homeland. However far we travel we can never really escape our past.

A note on my rating. I am writing this review more than three months after I finished the book (I am so behind on my blogging). I came close to giving it four stars but could quite get there. Regardless, I will definitely read another book by Kathryn Ma. My ratings are not, and should not be read as, the objective quality of the book; rather, it is a reflection of how much I liked it at the time I read it. This can be affected by any number of things. So, if you think you might like the book, please don’t hesitate because of my three stars; take a look instead at the ratings on Amazon and Goodreads, and the ratings of the New York Times.

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