Chinese Fish (Grace Yee, Giramondo)
Chinese Fish is a brilliant work of genre-bending prose poetry by award-winning poet Grace Yee. Full of subtle poetic turns, Yee’s narrative is an intimate look at a Cantonese family settling in Aotearoa New Zealand during the 70s and 80s. In Chinese Fish, Yee invites the reader to observe a mini-saga in which women are the central narrators, from Ping, the ever-busy mother who endures her life in contemplative misery, to Cherry, the observant teenager whose point of view is strongly present in the story. The book examines the complexities of a family spanning three generations, during a time when racist beliefs were widely held against ‘yellow’ immigrants. With wit and dexterity, Yee weaves her poetic lines with historical data, debunking long-held stereotypes and offering an intimate look into the domestic lives of Chinese women. It is hard not to be fond of the insights of Baby Joseph—even when he is wielding a meat cleaver—or Cherry’s astute, food-based musings. ‘My mother’s feet were the colour of cooked chicken (though bonier),’ she says, later describing the feeling of a teenage crush as ‘insides fizzing like yeast’. Visually rich and poetically stunning, Chinese Fish is for those who enjoyed Thuy On’s Decadence or Sarah Holland-Batt’s The Jaguar.
Books+Publishing reviewer: Ana Brawls is a librarian, book reviewer and emerging writer who lives on Wadandi Boodja/Margaret River. Books+Publishing is Australia’s number-one source of pre-publication book reviews.