Bone Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1993

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Domestic realism

Time of work: The 1960’s to the 1980’s

Locale: San Francisco’s Chinatown

Characters DiscussedLeila (Lei) Fu Louie

Leila Bone (Lei) Fu Louie, the narrator. A community relations specialist for a public school, Lei also is the specialist in family relations for the Leong family. She is the “First Girl,” the eldest daughter of Dulcie Leong and stepdaughter of Leon Leong, Chinese immigrants who live in San Francisco’s Chinatown. As the eldest daughter, she has been her parents’ translator and their bridge into contemporary American society.

Dulcie (Mah) Leong

Dulcie (Mah) Leong, Lei’s mother. She has worked most of her life as a seamstress and now owns a children’s clothing store. She came to America with her first husband, Lei’s father. After he deserted Dulcie and Lei, leaving to seek better opportunities in Australia, she married Leon.

Leon Leong

Leon Leong, Lei’s stepfather, a retired seaman. Leon entered the United States using false papers and a false name, which he adopted. When ashore, he worked a variety of odd jobs, unable to find anything permanent. He lost his investment in a laundry business when his partner cheated him.

Nina Leong

Nina Leong, Lei’s half sister. The “End Girl,” the youngest daughter in the Leong family, Nina has rebelled against the traditional demands placed on her by her parents. She has escaped by moving across the continent to New York. Her ties to her Chinese heritage remain intact; she leads tours to Hong Kong and mainland China.

Ona Leong

Ona Leong, Lei’s half sister who recently committed suicide. Lei remembers her as the “forward-looking one,” but as the “Middle Girl,” Ona was stuck in the middle of family crises. She had fallen in love with the son of Leon’s cheating business partner and refused to stop seeing him, despite her father’s orders.

Mason Louie

Mason Louie, Lei’s husband, a car mechanic. Lei is attracted to Mason not only by his lean good looks but also by his relaxed, confident manner. He, more than any other character, seems comfortable spanning the bridge between Chinese traditions and modern American life. Lei sees him as the one person she does not have to worry about; he can take care of himself.

BibliographyBelles Lettres. VIII, Spring, 1993, p.21.Cheng, Lucie, et al. Linking Our Lives: Chinese American Women of Los Angeles. Los Angeles: Chinese Historical Society of Southern California, 1984. The authors discuss problems of Chinese women as they become Americanized in Southern California. The women of the Leong family, including the mother and three daughters, confront these obstacles.Chicago Tribune. February 25, 1993, V, p.3.Hunnewell, Susannah. “When the Old Begin to Die.” The New York Times Book Review (February 7, 1993): 9. This article describes the sweatshops where Ng grew up in Chinatown, San Francisco, California, and where many older people worked hard to give their grandchildren a better life. Ng’s novel pays tribute to the dedication of her grandparents’ generation.Kim, Elaine H., with Janice Otani. With Silk Wings: Asian American Women at Work. San Francisco: Asian Women United of California, 1983. Kim lists problems of Chinese and other Asian American women on the job market. Particularly relevant to Ng’s novel are the depictions of women in a sweatshop such as the one in which Mah Leong works.Knoll, Tricia. Becoming Americans: Asian Sojourners, Immigrants, and Refugees in the Western United States. Portland, Oreg.: Coast to Coast Books, 1982. Knoll describes the problems and circumstances of numerous Asian immigrant groups throughout the Western United States, including the Chinese in San Francisco.Library Journal. CXVIII, January, 1993, p.166.Lim, Shirley Geok-lin. “Assaying the Gold: Or, Contesting the Ground of Asian American Literature.” New Literary History 24, no. 1 (Winter, 1993): 147-165. Traces the image of “the dream of the gold mountain”–from the early twentieth century writings at Angel Island, the immigrant’s port-of-entry, to contemporary authors’ preoccupations with paradoxes of promise and imprisonment, assimilation, and ethnic identification. Lim’s analysis does not include Ng’s work, but her discussion of mainstream Asian American authors who have reached success by mediating between non-Asian American readers and their own ethnic identities, includes much that would also pertain to a study of Bone.Lim, shirley Geok-lin. “Feminist and Ethnic Literary Theories in Asian American Literature.” Feminist Studies 19, no. 3 (Fall, 1993): 571-595. Although this essay was written before the publication of Ng’s novel, it delineates feminist issues in writings by Asian American women that help to illuminate similar issues in Bone. Lim focuses on how the literature reflects the oppositional demands of ethnic and gender identity. Claims that Asian American women have had to invent new plots, in which patriarchal power is diminished by the disempowerment of the father-figure, in order to reclaim their “mother/other” origin.Los Angeles Times. January 14, 1993, p. ES.Miller, Heather Ross. “America the Big Lie, the Quintessential.” Southern Review 29, no. 2 (April, 1993): 420-430. A review of five books of fiction, including Bone. Miller focuses on how the American Dream is supposed to be achieved by the adherence to a strong work ethic. Although these authors reveal the corruption of the innocent that such a belief engenders, their fictions recall a history of suffering transformed into life and hope.Ms. III, May, 1993, p.75.The New York Times Book Review. XCVIII, February 7, 1993, p.7.The New Yorker. LXVIII, February 8, 1993, p.113.Ng, Fae Myenne. “False Gold: My Father’s American Journey.” New Republic 209 (July 19, 1993): 12-13. Ng discusses her father’s immigration to America. He was of the generation that took the sacrificial role to venture forth, and now at the end of this life he is bitter and believes that he has had no luck. Although she does not draw direct parallels between her father and the character of Leon Leong in Bone, they share similar antecedents–both are “paper sons” and both have been disappointed in their “Golden Venture” to the Beautiful Country.Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIX, November 9, 1992, p.71.Stephenson, Heather. “Out of the Kitchen and Traveling On: New Fiction by Asian Women.” New England Review 16, no. 1 (Winter, 1994): 169-176. In this comparison of Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen, Duong Thu Hong’s Paradise of the Blind, and Fae Myenne Ng’s Bone, Stephenson discusses how each author uses the language of food, kitchens, and ritual offerings to integrate family histories into current lives.Suh, Mary. “Fae Myenne Ng: Sparse Words, Rich Images.” Review of Bone, by Fae Myenne Ng. Ms. 3 (June, 1993): 75. Suh’s review of Ng’s novel focuses on the insider’s account of life in Chinatown, the family life of Chinese immigrants, and the immigrant’s story. Provides an excellent perspective of the cultural background of Ng’s book.Tannenbaum, Amy. “Getting to the Marrow.” New York 26, no. 4 (January 25, 1993): 26. A brief profile of and interview with Fae Myenne Ng in which she describes her childhood in San Francisco when she helped her mother in a sewing sweatshop. She sees herself as a traveler, an itinerant who, like the oldtimers, makes a home wherever she is.Tsai, Shih-shan Henry. The Chinese Experience in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986. Tsai gives a broad outline, replete with numerous details, about problems of cultural assimilation of the Chinese in America. The book is recent enough to take up problems of present-day first-and second-generation Chinese immigrants.The Washington Post Book World. XXIII, January 10, 1993, p.8.Women’s Review of Books. X, May, 1993, p.27.
Categories: Characters