Useful Phrases for Immigrants: Stories
By May-Lee Chai
In the title story of this timely and innovative collection, a young woman wearing a Prada coat attempts to redeem a coupon for plastic storage bins while her in-laws are at home watching the Chinese news and taking her private phone calls. It is the lively and wise juxtaposition of cultures, generations, and emotions that characterize May-lee Chai's amazing stories. Within them, readers will find a complex blend of cultures spanning China, the Chinese diaspora in America, and finally, the world at large.
With luminous prose and sharp-eyed observations, Chai reveals her characters' hopes and fears, and our own: a grieving historian seeking solace from an old lover in Beijing, a young girl discovering her immigrant mother's infidelity, workers constructing a shopping mall in central China who make a shocking discovery. Families struggle with long-held grudges, reinvent traditions, and make mysterious visits to shadowy strangers from their past--all rendered with economy and beauty.
With hearts that break and sometimes mend, with families who fight and sometimes forgive, the timely stories in Useful Phrases for Immigrants illuminate complicated lives with empathy and passion. Chai's stories are essential reading for an increasingly globalized world.
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About the AuthorMay-lee Chai is the author of ten books, including the memoir Hapa Girl, a Kiriyama Prize Notable Book; the novel Tiger Girl, which won an Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature; and her original translation from Chinese to English of the 1934 Autobiography of Ba Jin. Her award-winning short prose has been published widely, including in Glimmer Train, Missouri Review, Seventeen, Crab Orchard Review, The Rumpus, ZYZZYVA, Dallas Morning News, Christian Science Monitor, and San Francisco Chronicle. The recipient of an NEA fellowship in prose, Chai is an assistant professor in the Creative Writing Department at San Francisco State University.
"It's as if the author is getting out of her own way, giving herself space to focus on the mechanics of one individual narrative at a time. Yet in each there's a sense of many other narratives just off the page, the lives and back stories we aren't seeing. Short stories are by definition brief, but they needn't be small." --New York Times
"Immersive and complex, Chai's characters confront questions about class, family, sexuality, love, longing and more. The sign of a strong collection is one where the stories work together to inform the reader, and Chai's eight tales do just that." --Washington Post
"Chai doesn't give us op-eds decorated with human fixtures. Instead, we get human lives in which migration is one shaping force jostling alongside many others, including puberty, sexuality, disease, and old age." --The National
"With her masterful short story collection, Chai proves with exquisite craftsmanship that less can be so much more. In quiet moments of family drama, Chai shines a light on the deeper truths." --Booklist (Starred Review)
"Chai thoughtfully depicts the loneliness of displacement, combining empathy and nuance to craft stories that are compassionate, illuminating, and sometimes brilliant." --Publishers Weekly
"May-lee Chai's Useful Phrases for Immigrants is distinguished by writing as elegant and delicate as a snowflake...Devastating and graceful in equal turns, this collection confirms Chai's place among the best Asian American writers of today." --Foreword Reviews (Starred Review)
"Chai's confident writing and insights into characters wanting, but unable, to fit in--whether because of class, sexuality, ethnicity, or the everyday complications of human connection--make her a writer to remember." --Kirkus Reviews
"Chai's stories carry themes about borders--national, cultural and psychic--and traditions old, new and invented. As the world becomes increasingly global, this material proves ever-relevant... These evocative stories are variously funny, surprising, gloomy and heartening, ultimately about a universal human experience, of immigration and beyond." --Shelf Awareness
"Chai's latest is a slim volume featuring a diverse assortment of tales that explore immigrant identity in unique ways." --Entertainment Weekly "New & Notable" "buzziest books" guide and "20 New Books to Read in October"
The Millions "Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2018 Book Preview;" Elle "28 Best Books to Read in Fall 2018;" Electric Lit "46 Books by Women of Color to Read in 2018;" and Bustle "11 Most Anticipated Books Published by Indie Presses to Have on Your Radar in 2018," "Finished Crazy Rich Asians? Try These 8 Books Next," and "'Useful Phrases For Immigrants' By May-Lee Chai Explores The Effect Of Globalization, Class, And Race On Family Dynamics"
"May-lee Chai presents us with a splendid gem of a story collection . . . Complementing the vivid characters, the reader has the gift of language--'a wind so treacherous it had its own name, ' 'summer days stretched taffy slow'....Chai's work is a grand event." --Edward P. Jones, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Known World, All Aunt Hagar's Children, and Lost in the City
"The eight stories in this collection contain multitudes. Chai interrogates heavy subjects with a light touch...Useful Phrases for Immigrants is more than merely "useful," this is essential reading and I'm honored to choose this book for the Bakwin Award." --Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage and Silver Sparrow
"The characters in May-lee Chai's riveting Useful Phrases for Immigrants ask searching questions--of themselves, of their families, and of their culture. The answers, they often find, are within themselves, rooted in love and hope. This clear-eyed story collection features characters so well-drawn that I won't ever forget them." --Chantel Acevedo, author of A Falling Star, The Distant Marvels, and The Living Infinite
"May-lee Chai's Useful Phrases for Immigrants holds multitudes, taking us into a dazzling range of lives. With exquisite prose and unforgettable characters, the collection is a must-read." --Vanessa Hua, A River of Stars
"With insight, compassion, and clarity, May-lee Chai vividly illustrates the reverberations of migration--both physical and psychological; between countries, cities, and generations; and within families and individuals. You won't forget these characters." --Lisa Ko, author of The Leavers, finalist for the National Book Award in Fiction