From the bestselling and award-winning author of the novels Bone and Steer Toward Rock, Fae Myenne Ng’s Orphan Bachelors is an extraordinary memoir of her beloved San Francisco’s Chinatown and of a family building a life in a country bent on their exclusion.
In pre-Communist China, Fae Myenne Ng’s father memorized a book of lies and gained entry to the United States as a stranger’s son, evading the Exclusion Act, an immigration law which he believed was meant to extinguish the Chinese American family. During the McCarthy era, he entered the Confession Program in a failed attempt to salvage his marriage only to have his citizenship revoked to resident alien. Exclusion and Confession, America’s two slamming doors. As Ng’s father said, “America didn’t have to kill any Chinese, the Exclusion Act ensured none would be born.”
Ng was her parents’ precocious first born, the translator, the bossy eldest sister. A child raised by a seafaring father and a seamstress mother, by San Francisco’s Chinatown and its legendary Orphan Bachelors—men without wives or children, Exclusion’s living legacy. She and her siblings were their stand-in descendants, Ng’s family grocery store their haven.
Each Orphan Bachelor bequeathed the children their true American inheritance. Ng absorbed their suspicious, lonely, barren nature; she found storytelling and chosen children in the form of her students. Exclusion’s legacy followed her from the back alleys of Chinatown in the 60s, to Manhattan in the 80s, to the high desert of California in the 90s, until her return home in the 2000s when the untimely deaths of her youngest brother and her father devastated the family. As a child, Ng believed her father’s lies; as an adult, she returned to her childhood home to write his truth.
Orphan Bachelors weaves together the history of one family, lucky to exist and nevertheless doomed; an elegy for brothers estranged and for elders lost; and insights into writing between languages and teaching between generations. It also features Cantonese profanity, snakes that cure fear and opium that conquers sorrow, and a seemingly immortal creep of tortoises. In this powerful remembrance, Fae Myenne Ng gives voice to her valiant ancestors, her bold and ruthless Orphan Bachelors, and her own inner self, howling in Cantonese, impossible to translate but determined to be heard.