Thank you, Mr. Nixon Stories from the transformation

Gish Jen

Book - 2022

"In her first collection of stories since the acclaimed Who's Irish?, the beloved author of The Resisters refracts the fifty years since the opening of China through the lives of ordinary people. Beginning with a cheery, kindly letter penned by a Chinese girl in heaven to "poor Mr. Nixon" in hell, Gish Jen embarks on an eleven-story journey through U.S.-Chinese relations, capturing not only the excitement of a world on the brink of tectonic change, but the all-too-human encounters that ensue as East meets West. Opal Chen reunites with her sisters in China after a hiatus of almost forty years; American Arnie Hsu clashes with his Chinese girlfriend Lulu Koo, who wonders why Americans "like to walk around in the woods ...with the mosquitoes"; Tina and Johnson Koo take wholly surprising measures to reestablish contact when their "number one daughter," Bobby, stops answering her phone in New York; and Betty Koo, brought up on "no politics, just make money," finds she must square her mother's philosophy with the repression in Hong Kong. With their profound compassion, equally profound humor, and unexpected connections, these masterful stories reflect history's shifting shadow over our boldest decisions and most intimate moments. Gradually accruing the power of a novel as it proceeds, Thank You, Mr. Nixon furnishes yet more proof of Gish Jen's enduring place among the most eminent of American storytellers"--

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1st Floor FICTION/Jen Gish Checked In
Domestic fiction
Short stories
New York : Alfred A. Knopf 2022.
Main Author
Gish Jen (author)
First edition
Physical Description
256 pages ; 22 cm
  • Thank you, Mr. Nixon
  • It's the Great Walll
  • Duncan in China
  • A tea tale
  • Lulu in exile
  • Gratitude
  • Mr. Crime and Punishment and War and Peace
  • Amaryllis
  • Rothko, Rothko
  • No more maybe
  • Detective dog.
Review by Booklist Review

Jen (The Resisters, 2020) distills five decades of cultural collision, confusion, and collaboration between the U.S. and China into 11 gorgeously comedic and heartbreaking stories cleverly linked through family and friends. The first tale is the most playful, taking the form of a letter to Richard Nixon in hell from a Chinese woman in heaven who, as a girl, met him on his famous 1972 visit to China. The ensuing tales encapsulate the circumstantial and emotional tolls of Chinese tyranny, from the Mao years to the courageous protests in Tiananmen Square and Hong Kong. But for all the pain and poignancy, Jen is wryly hilarious, her plots spring-loaded, her dialogue ricocheting and spiked with contrasts in languages and customs. One funny, profoundly nuanced tale follows a married couple--she's Chinese American, he's Caribbean Sephardic Jewish--on a revelatory trip to China with her mother who hasn't been back for 40 years. Chinese American Duncan's romanticism about China is punctured when he ends up teaching in a coal mining institute. For all their cocooning wealth, the Koo family cannot avoid sorrow, while undocumented painter Ming creates fake Rothkos to send money to her sick mother in China. On into the COVID-19 pandemic, the connections Jen finesses among her entrancing characters are surprising and piquing, her painterly descriptions compassionate and amusing, her summoning of ambiguity and hard truths uniquely illuminating.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

President Nixon's 1972 visit to China provides the context for Jen's masterly collection (after The Resisters), which explores the cultural wounds and generational gaps of mainlanders and Chinese Americans. In the tongue-in-cheek title story, a riff on Dante's inferno, a dead middle-aged Chinese woman named Tricia Yang writes from her perch in heaven to President Nixon, who resides in the ninth ring of Hell. Tricia recalls speaking with Nixon when she was a young girl during his 1972 visit and how Pat Nixon's famous red coat influenced her family to start their own coat manufacturing business, eventually exporting to the U.S., where the "Made in China" label elicits backlash from jingoistic consumers. In this and other stories, Jen skillfully reveals the book's main theme: is bridging differences ever truly possible? In the satirical "It's the Great Wall!" Opal Tsu, a Chinese immigrant living in the U.S., reckons with her daughter's cultural misunderstandings during a trip through China, and becomes the tour group's unofficial interpreter upon finding out that their official guide speaks little English. In this and other stories, Jen inserts a character who becomes a mediator, reluctantly translating for hapless Americans. "Rothko, Rothko" centers on the ethical dilemmas faced by a Chinese American literature professor who meets a Chinese art forger and deals with an ambitious Chinese student who takes the name Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot's original name) and commits plagiarism. With wry humor, pathos, and punchy dialogue, Jen's uncanny stories easily stand up to her hefty themes. This is a stellar addition to Jen's prolific body of work. Agent: Daniel Kirschen, ICM Partners. (Jan.)

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Review by Library Journal Review

Opening with a heartfelt letter written by a Chinese girl in heaven to "poor Mr. Nixon" in hell, this latest from the multi-honored Jen moves through 11 stories that reflect on a half-century of Chinese people in the larger world. A woman reunites with her sisters in China after four decades; a couple go to extraordinary lengths to reconnect with their daughter, who won't answer her phone in New York; in Hong Kong, a woman raised with the admonition "no politics, just make money" struggles to understand the repressive new environment. Jen's first collection since 1999's Who's Irish?

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

This stunning new linked short story collection offers a fresh take on the experience of immigration and exile. Political and economic relations between China and the United States are major news, but Jen takes it to the micro level in her vibrant short stories about characters who are varying degrees of Chinese and American--and for whom the question of what it means to be Chinese and/or American touches every corner of their lives. In the title story, a Chinese woman who was a young girl when she met U.S. President Richard Nixon during his historic visit to "open" China expresses her gratitude to him for the changes in her country. She's writing him from heaven; his address is the ninth circle of hell. In "It's the Great Wall!" American-born Grace Chen de Castro goes with her immigrant mother, Opal, on a tour of China--Opal's first return home in 40 years. Despite the clowning of Grace's annoying non-Chinese husband, the daughter's understanding of the mother will be transformed as Opal bridges both cultures. Several of the stories revolve around the Koo family. Tina and Johnson Koo live in a posh home in Hong Kong, with a view of the city from a "picture window, in the blue light, with the mountain and mist like a screensaver behind them." There, Tina frets over her daughters, Betty, "the good one," glamorous youngest Lulu, and especially the oldest, Bobby, who has not only moved to America with no apparent intention to return, but has cut off contact with her parents. Some of the stories about the Koos, like "Lulu in Exile," about how Lulu's promising relationship with a rich, older Chinese American man is scuttled by the man's shrewd mother, are hilarious. Others, like the final story in the collection, "Detective Dog," are heartbreaking. Recurring and related characters link all of the stories, which are set across several decades. Jen's crisp prose, wonderful eye for detail, and wry humor make them a joy to read, and there is wisdom here, too--we're all exiles from something. Living between cultures might mean never being at home--or finding home in the space between. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.