Obviously, this book makes me think of this clip from the Simpsons.
I am left wondering why this book gets taught to high school students, at least in a compulsory sense. I think that this book makes a lot of sense for a self-motivated kind of student. Not to say that it’s a particularly complex or difficult book to read, but that it’s themes and issues kind of skip teenage years. For example, everyone in this book seems to be either a child or thirty-five or middle-aged.
In this collection of stories, the framing agent for the whole collection is a weekly Mahjong and Investment club that was started in China in 1930s amid severe famine and poverty and then brought to the US in a wave of Chinese immigration preceding World War II. This club started as a way to celebrate life and share a meal and play a game, but as the different players grow older and start families it evolves into a co-op of sorts. As the kids grow up, they are friends and also not friends, competitors for parents to put in front of each other, and then the stewards of the next generation as the original players start dying off.
Taking place over the course of sixteen different short stories, the story deals with life back in China, divorce, death, family, childhood, and lots of other issues that circulate around these players and their families.
One of the prevailing themes is how much loss and suffering is survived by the older generation and then hidden from the younger, and how that creates a tension, as well as how the hybridity of the younger generations keeps them from fully understanding either.