On April 11, 1979, Peter Huang is born. He is the third child and only boy born into a first generation Chinese-Canadian family. The boy’s arrival, some ten years after the birth of two girls, fulfills his father’s obsessive dream of having male offspring.
Peter’s father makes every attempt to adopt western customs; refusing to speak his native tongue, even with his Chinese wife. The last time Peter’s mother hears his father speak Cantonese is when he holds his newborn son. It’s a name. A boy’s name: Juan Chaun. “Powerful king.” The birth certificate states Peter Huan but the name Juan Chaun exists, if not legally.
- Huang bestows upon his son the expectations and privileges of male Chinese offspring, combined with his misconceived Western “values.”
Most of the novel is set in a neglected working class neighbourhood of Fort Michel, Ontario, a town of thirty thousand people. The parents live on the periphery of their children’s lives. Father believes in hard work. Mother lives a silent and obedient life, emotionally distant from her children. Although Peter tries hard to fit in with a group of though boys at school, Peter is most happy and comfortable in the company of his sisters. There he finds the love, nurturing and understanding every child so much deserves. One of his first assignments at school is to draw what he wants to be when he grows up. Peter draws himself as a mommy. He wishes he were a girl. The novel touchingly, and at times heart-wrenchingly, explores Peter’s struggle to find his true identity.
This debut novel by young Canadian author Kim Fu is a tour de force. Her style flows easily. The story is insightful, touching, and at times funny. She artfully captures the warmth and love between Peter and two of his three sisters and the absence of true parental love: dialogue, understanding, acceptance and support.
Reviewed by: Maria Dewaele