All That Matters

All That Matters

A Novel

Book - 2005
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Kiam-Kim is three years old when he arrives by ship at Gold Mountain with his father and his grandmother, Poh-Poh, the Old One. It is 1926, and because of famine and civil war in China, they have left their village in Toishan province to become the new family of Third Uncle, a wealthy businessman whose own wife and son are dead. The place known as Gold Mountain is Vancouver, Canada, and Third Uncle needs help in his large Chinatown warehouse. Canada's 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act forces them, and many others, to use false documents, or ghost papers, to get past the 'immigration demons' and become Third Uncle's Gold Mountain family.

This is the beginning of All That Matters , the eagerly anticipated sequel to Wayson Choy's bestselling first novel, The Jade Peony . The author takes us once again to the Vancouver of the 1930s and 1940s to follow the lives of the Chen family, this time through the experiences of First Son, Kiam-Kim, whose childhood and adolescence in a strict but caring Chinatown family is at once strange and familiar to us.

Like many families around them, they must survive in unsavoury surroundings. Since the closing down of the railroad work camps, Chinatown is filled with unemployed labourers who live in poor rooming-houses. Sea winds fill the rooms with acrid smoke from the mills and refineries of False Creek, and freight trains shake their windows at night with noises the Old One says are dragons playing. Yet this is a land where the Chen family will not starve; where they will be able to keep a girl baby, and not sell her into servitude as was the Old One, whose back is scarred from whippings.

In their new life, however, there is a constant struggle to balance the new Gold Mountain ideas with the old traditions and knowledge of China. Old One doesn't like Kiam-Kim to speak English, and Kiam-Kim knows that to be without manners, without a sense of correct social ritual, is to bring dishonour to one's family. Children who lose their 'Chinese brains' are called 'bamboo stumps' by the elders because of the hollow emptiness within, so Kiam-Kim must study hard at Chinese school as well as English school. He must help Poh-Poh to cook for her mahjong ladies, and her hard knuckles rap his head when he misbehaves.

Although Poh-Poh urges him to stick with his own kind and not let non-Chinese 'barbarians' into the house, Kiam-Kim forges a lasting friendship with Jack O'Connor, the Irish boy next door. He also has a girlfriend, Jenny, daughter of one of the mahjong ladies who owns a corner grocery shop. Meanwhile, China is suffering during the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, and soon the whole world is at war. Boys at school are enlisting, and many Chinese have gone back to fight for the old country. Kiam-Kim wonders, "What world would we fight for?" Canada is his home, yet he knows that the new country does not want Chinese soldiers.

The Jade Peony , was "a genuine contribution to history as well as fiction" according to author Margaret Drabble. It spent 26 weeks on the Globe and Mail bestseller list, shared the 1995 Trillium Award with Margaret Atwood, and won the Vancouver Book Award. Blending rich historical detail with powerful personal stories, All That Matters follows Kiam-Kim as he learns the responsibilities and rewards of family and community, as he approaches adulthood in a city much divided, and as he faces decisions about what truly matters in life. More than anything else, the novel is an exploration of his character. "I think all stories should arise organically from the characters' definitions of the world," says Wayson Choy, who believes that it is in the identification of reader with character that literature exists. "If you give details that ring true...that's the meaning conveyed by good writing."
Publisher: [Toronto, Ont.] : Anchor Canada, 2005, c2004
Edition: Anchor Canada edition
ISBN: 9780385257770
Branch Call Number: FIC Choy
Characteristics: 423 p. 22 cm


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Mar 19, 2018

I really couldn't get into this book. It droned on and on. It was interesting to find out about the Vancouver area and the culture of new immigrant Chinese families during that time period. Maybe I was missing something, but I had high hopes for this book. I can't imagine anyone really seriously enjoying this book who wasn't from Vancouver because they wouldn't recognize the places that the author talked about throughout the novel. In short, I kept expecting something to happen. It read as if it were a diary of someone. Things did in fact happen throughout the novel, however it was sincerely anti-climactic.

Sep 27, 2013

This is the sequel to "The Jade Peony". Through the eyes of first Son we find ourselves immersed into the lives of this Chinese-Canadian family. Po-Po (Grandmother) lends significant inslght her difficult life and into the customs and legends of those from Old China. These can make you laugh and cry. I felt I was living in the small house in Vancouver; felt their shame at not being allowed to be Canadian citizens; felt what is our historic shame in the 1923 Exclusion Act which prohibited Chinese access to Canada; felt the humiliation of those brave Chinese lads who were not wanted in the
Canadian Armed Forces; understood the pain,anger and hatred they felt towards the Japanese who invaded China and murdered many thousands of Chinese children, women and men.

A must-read for anyone who wishes to understand both our Canadian history and that of the early Chinese immigrants to Gold Mountain (British Columbia).

Aside from the above, this is an extraordinary story about the lives of an 'ordinary' Chinese family living in Canada.

Jul 22, 2012

Read 2009

snowspirit1 May 05, 2011

Lovely sequel to The Jade Peony.


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Jul 24, 2008

Shorlisted for the Giller Prize, this is the much anticipated sequel to Choy’s first novel, The Jade Peony. We meet the protagonist Kiam Kim as he boards a ship to Vancouver and follow him through his adulthood in Vancouver's Chinatown. Other intriguing characters include Kiam’s grandmother Poh Poh, father, stepmother, and the Irish boy next door, the reckless Jack O'Connor.

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