The Eighth Promise: An American Son's Tribute to His Toisanese Mother

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William Poy Lee
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William Poy Lee received his bachelor's of architecture??from the University of California, Berkeley, and his Juris Doctor from Hastings College of Law, University of California, San Francisco. A lawyer since 1979, he lives in Berkeley, where he writes full-time.
In The Eighth Promise, author William Poy Lee gives us a memoir of a relationship between a mother and sona??and of the Chinese American immigrant experience. His stories unfold simultaneously in the ancient Chinese farming village of his mother's childhood during World War II while under attack by the Japanese Imperial Army, and in America in the housing projects of San Francisco's Chinatown during the civil rights era, Vietnam War, and the countercultural 1960s and 1970s of William's coming-of-age.
The author's mother, Poy Jen, makes her mother eight promises before she leaves China, perhaps forever, to join her husband in America. The eighth is the most sacred.
The Eighth Promise recounts how Poy Jen keeps this promise and instills the sense of its importance into her son's very soul. He writes, It is the Eighth Promisea??to live with compassion toward alla??that I think of as the ever-living promise, the one for all of one's days. And this promise, this waya??perhaps arising to the level of a moral patha??strikes me as the distillation of all the wisdom of my kin.
Born in the heart of San Francisco's Chinatown, William begins his life with fractured identitiesa??on the one hand, he is American and has never seen China, and on the other hand, many Americans consider him an outsider. Only through living by his mother's words, uttered years ago in an ancient Chinese farming village, is he able to achieve a sense of balance and survive the Jim Crow segregation rampant in the San Francisco of his youth. When violence erupts in Chinatown in a series of slayings and William's brother is wrongfully convicted of murder, William must remember the Eighth Promise in order to do what is right.
Told in two voicesa??the author's and that of his mothera??this book is a tale of violence, fortitude, survival, and triumph.
Whatever our level of familiarity with the main ingredients of this story, it nevertheless continues to exert a powerful allure. After reading William Poy Lee'sThe Eighth Promise, we are reminded why: Each family has its own emotional landscapes, its own idiosyncrasies and neuroses. In the end, it is observing the way particular families respond to stress that makes such narratives so compelling. a??San Francisco Chronicle
The Eighth Promise is a lively read and a significant contribution to the body of literature that continues to bubble up from the steaming cauldron that is the American immigrant experience. a??Salon
The Eighth Promise is the rare book that tells a story we have not heard before, yet poses questions that are eternal. Who are we, having left the land of our ancestors and settled among others similarly displaced? How do we find 'home' in the present when the past meant a thousand years in the same place? How do we honor parentsa??particularly our mothersa??whose lives were the bridge that brought us safely to a more promising land? In this unusual, wise, insightful and healing memoir, William Lee Poy explores territory that reflects and intrigues us all. a??Alice Walker
One of the very few books that completely conveys a life as lived from the inside and makes us as readers feel we are living it too. a??Gloria Steinem
At once a family story, a political tale, a crucial piece of American history, a drama of betrayal and ultimate survival,The Eighth Promise promises to be a book that will be read by generations of readers. a??Kim Chernin, author ofIn My Mother's House
In this remarkable memoir, mother and son, in alternating chapters, tell the story of their life in San Francisco's Chinatown from the 1950s to the present . . . Fans of Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston shouldn't hesitate to embrace this formidable matriarch and the son she taught to cook her chi soups. a??Publishera??s Weekly (starred review)


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