author: Carolyn Huynh
published: 6 September 2022
publisher: Atria Books
genre(s): magical realism
source: Book of the Month
buy/shelve it: Amazon | B&N | BookBub | BookHype | Goodreads
Everyone in Orange County’s Little Saigon knew that the Duong sisters were cursed.
It started with their ancestor Oanh who dared to leave her marriage for true love—so a fearsome Vietnamese witch cursed Oanh and her descendants so that they would never find love or happiness, and the Duong women would give birth to daughters, never sons.
Oanh’s current descendant Mai Nguyen knows this curse well. She’s divorced, and after an explosive disagreement a decade ago, she’s estranged from her younger sisters, Minh Pham (the middle and the mediator) and Khuyen Lam (the youngest who swears she just runs humble coffee shops and nail salons, not Little Saigon’s underground). Though Mai’s three adult daughters, Priscilla, Thuy, and Thao, are successful in their careers (one of them is John Cho’s dermatologist!), the same can’t be said for their love life. Mai is convinced they might drive her to an early grave.
Desperate for guidance, she consults Auntie Hua, her trusted psychic in Hawaii, who delivers an unexpected prediction: this year, her family will witness a marriage, a funeral, and the birth of a son. This prophecy will reunite estranged mothers, daughters, aunts, and cousins—for better or for worse.
A multi-narrative novel brimming with levity and candor, The Fortunes of Jaded Women is about mourning, meddling, celebrating, and healing together as a family. It shows how Vietnamese women emerge victorious, even if the world is against them.
- my review
- a few notes
This book follows three generations of Vietnamese women as they navigate life straddling both East and West cultures. At its heart are the often complicated relationships between not only the generations, but between sisters, between cousins. The story also explored how the younger generation may not always appreciate cultural traditions and ideals.
The author refers to her characters as “messy,” and this is true. But that’s also what makes them feel real, as they live between Vietnamese culture and American. Huynh wraps the messiness, and some very real and deep issues, with real emotion as well as humor and even some magical whimsy.
The theme of generational trauma is very much at the center of this book, and with it some same-race discrimination and misogynistic ideals. Some of the mothers within the middle generation speak to the former, warning their daughters against marrying Vietnamese men. Many of the mothers also express disappointment at having daughters rather than sons, as giving birth to sons is preferable over daughters. The ironic side of this is that it is the daughters who later care for the elders. There is racism, too, especially among the younger generation. There are many moments during which they are treated as if all Asians are the same. There is also a character who clearly fetishizes Asian women in an extremely uncomfortable way.
But while there are many moments that are deep and intense, there are also just as many moments that are tender and sweet, funny and hopeful, and, yes, sad. It’s a book that brings a culture to life, and that is utterly engrossing.
content warning: ❗some graphic violence❗
steamy rating: 0🔥s
language level: 🤬🤬🤬
POV: 3rd person
keywords/phrases: family, dysfunction, generational trauma, racism
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