The uneasiness between first-generation Americans and their children or grandchildren isn't really new material. However, when it' handled with the humor and energy that Kim Wong Keltner brings to her novel The Dim Sum of All Things, it's still interesting to read about.
Dim Sum is the story of Lindsey Owyang, an unsatisfied Chinese-American twenty-something who works as a receptionist at the kind of politically correct magazine where employees are tested to ensure that they are not meat-eaters. Lindsey also lives with her grandmother, a Chinese immigrant who keeps jars of smelly ointments lying around the house, lives for her games of mahjong and regularly nibbles on chickens' feet.
Lindsey is what her brother calls a Twinkie - "yellow on the outside, but a total white girl inside." Indeed, she mostly dates white men, loves 80s pop and is mortally embarrassed by her grandmother's stinky jellies. But Keltner clearly shows that, while Lindsey has assimilated into "white" culture, she still has a twisted ethnic pride.
She's particularly wary of white guys she dubs "hoarders of all things Asian," who only date Asian-American girls and are more interested in her culture than she is. Lindsey also feels a bit of anxiety about her crush on a white co-worker, who seems to like her. But are his feelings genuine, or is he just another hoarder?
For all of the interesting questions it raises about culture and being true to your roots, Keltner's work isn't a deep book. Characters - such as a hoarder named Steve Lindsey briefly tangles with - pop up and disappear, and a conflict between Lindsey and Michael late in the book is resolved a little too quickly.
But Dim Sum is a light, breezy and engrossing read that not only raises pertinent questions, but also makes you laugh (as when Lindsey's grandmother sets her up on a blind date with a Karaoke-loving gangster). This Dim Sum may not be a hearty meal, but it is tasty.