THE EIGHTH PROMISE

An American Son’s Tribute to His Toisanese Mother

William Poi Lee

 In the best-selling tradition of The Color of Water comes a beautifully written, evocative memoir of a relationship between a mother and son—and the Chinese-American experience.

In The Eighth Promise, author William Poy Lee gives us a rare view of the Asian-American experience from a mother-son perspective. His moving and complex story of growing up in the housing projects of San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1960s and ’70s unfolds in two voices—the author’s own and that of his mother—to provide a sense of tradition and culture. It is a stunning tale of murder,

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 In the best-selling tradition of The Color of Water comes a beautifully written, evocative memoir of a relationship between a mother and son—and the Chinese-American experience.

In The Eighth Promise, author William Poy Lee gives us a rare view of the Asian-American experience from a mother-son perspective. His moving and complex story of growing up in the housing projects of San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1960s and ’70s unfolds in two voices—the author’s own and that of his mother—to provide a sense of tradition and culture. It is a stunning tale of murder, injustice, fortitude, and survival. Already, this exquisitely wrought memoir is garnering rave notices.

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  • Rodale
  • Paperback
  • November 2007
  • 336 Pages
  • 9781594868115

Buy the Book

$14.95

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About William Poi Lee

 William Poy Lee, formerly an architect and now a lawyer, lives in Berkeley, California. This is his first book.

Praise

Winner of a 2007 PEN Oakland Literary Award

“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.” —Publishers Weekly, (starred review)

“In this unusual and wise, insightful and healing memoir, William Poy Lee explores territory that reflects and intrigues us all.” —Alice Walker

“[T]his enlightening, thought-provoking memoir … is part multigenerational saga and part tale of race-fueled political turmoil, fused with a refreshingly honest portrayal of a timeless mother-son bond.” —Booklist

“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.” —Kim Chernin, author of In My Mother’s House

Discussion Questions

Did you agree with the author’s choice to alternate chapters between his mother’s voice and his own? Or was it confusing?

Were the two voices clearly differentiable?

Did you notice the shift as the narrative continued, the Mother’s voice starting to shift more into observer and commentator rather than as the main character and as a teacher? In contrast, the author grows more-and-more into his own voice as his own story comes into the foreground?

Did the shift work as a writing device?

The author recorded over thirty hours of interviews with his mother — all in original Toisanese dialect. It’s one skill to translate words, but what do you think are the writing challenges involved in conveying the personality, the speaking cadences, and the cultural reference points of Toisanese into American?

What is the connection between old-world ancestry and being an American?

What do we gain if we explore the connection? What do we lose, if anything, if we don’t?

Is being American merely a matter of gaining citizenship, or do you truly become one only after several generations of your family living here? Are you less an American if you reconnect with your old-world ancestry – or are you in some way, more of one? Are you less patriotic?

In a globalizing age, how does knowing one’s own ancestry, or retaining or relearning the language of your parents or grandparents, help you? How might it hinder you?

What did you learn about pregnancy and childbirth that is different from American conventional wisdom?

Do you think there is merit in the approach to soups and food, i.e., to enhance the chi body and inner fires of each family member? Or is this an old wives’ tale?

Can the Clan system of family take firmer root in America? Would it be a better familial model than the nuclear family model? Or is it unrealistic given the pace of our lives and the demands of our careers?

In the face of official wrongdoing, corruption, or organized crime in your community, when is it right to take a personal stand? When might it be foolish to take a stand? Or to continue a stand?

Is a personal stand ever worth risking the possibility of death for?

Is parental influence more powerful when it is unspoken and subtle or when it is overtly imposed by rules, rewards and punishments, and verbal repetition?

Which parent has had the deeper influence on your character, life outlook, and values? What makes you say that? And in what ways? How did that parent influence you?

Would you like to interview your mother? Or father? If your mother consented to be interviewed, what would you like to know?

How would you ask her about sensitive areas without her withdrawing into silence or vagaries?

What is the purpose of higher education? To gain skills to earn the best living possible? To gain a better understanding of our society, the world, of culture and arts, and of political and economic systems? To understand yourself better psychologically and emotionally so you can function better in life in love, community, and work? To improve yourself — morally, spiritually, and/or religiously?