Crime in New York City is falling year on year – which parallels, curiously, the common complaint that the Big Apple is losing its buzz – but there is little chance that racial paranoia will subside. The film director Spike Lee has made a career of this conflict, homing in on race tensions in Do the Right Thing and Jungle Fever. But with Mona in the Promised Land, her second novel, Chinese-American writer Gish Jen is at once more subtle and more adventurous than Lee, exploring territory beyond the immediate (and predictable) clash of cultures faced by an immigrant Chinese family living in a New York City suburb.
Jen’s thirteen-year-old heroine, Mona Chang, exercises her right as a second-generation American to explore alternatives to her Chinese upbringing – she wants· to be Jewish. Her Catholic convent-educated mother, Helen, and father, Ralph, are mortified. Mona explains: ‘Jewish is American. American means being whatever you want, and I happened to