Ralph and Helen Chan fled Shanghai for unspecified reasons (except that the communists there 'eat leather') long enough ago that both their teenage daughters were born in the United States. Their Chinese names are never revealed. They both speak a delightfully fractured English that demonstrates their desire to become assimilated into American society and something of the difficulties they face. They both work hard enough in the family's pancake restaurant - why they do not have a stereotypical Chinese restaurant is never mentioned - so that their elder daughter Callie can go to Harvard. The pancake house forces them, and us, to recognise the distance between their wish to be American and their capacity to succeed. They must learn, for instance, that presenting the customers of Scarshill, New York, with Chinese waiters causes business to slump. They must learn that promoting the cook Cedric because he is Chinese and not promoting Alfred because he is black leads to litigation for race discrimination. The complexity of the Chans' predicament becomes more sharply focused as they struggle to raise their two daughters. Callie, the more docile, superior student, is clearly the less favoured daughter: though the parent Chans do not dote on Mona and may fret that they cannot tolerate her behaviour, yet it seems that Mona's sharp wit, independence and constant refrain that she is American and not Chinese seems to influence their intention to become American more than Callie's Chineseness appeals to their heritage. The difference between the two daughters and the separate pressures they put on their parents' twin identity force the issue of the novel. While at Harvard (well, Harvard-Radcliffe, Helen says in the necessary depreciation of Callie's success), Callie rooms with a black girl, Naomi, who, flush with the new black pride of the 1970s, teaches Callie to re-adopt her Chineseness, to identify with her ethnic identity. Meanwhile, expressing her dependence on and identification with the culture of Scarshill, Mona takes a far different path which has mostly comic overtones, but underscores the serious themes of identity. She decides to convert to Judaism, undertakes instruction in the torah, finds her friends exclusively among the Jewish students of her school and works on the synagogue's teenage hotline. And she appals her mother. Gish Jen is careful to note that the experiences of the Jews and the Chinese in America share many points of contact, so the initial comic surprise of the Jewish-American-Chinese Princess becomes less far-fetched as the novel proceeds. Ultimately it is left to the younger generation to address the issues of assimilation and identity that neither the older generation nor white America seem able to cope with. The novel has much to recommend it. It is full of episode, the characters are all committed to the issues Jen immerses them in, and the issues are real. To insulate the work against dogmatic sociology, the writing is thoroughly and engagingly comic. But, in my view, the novel goes badly wrong in one essential particular: I never quite believed it. The story is told, ostensibly, from Mona's point of view, but that is so usurped, co-opted, manipulated, subsumed by the overweening voice of Jen that the character of Mona is overwhelmed. In sociological terms, Mona is too precocious, too politically correct, she knows too much and sees too clearly to be an effective character. The book loses the opportunity seized, for instance, by Mark Twain in The Tales of Huckleberry Finn, in which Huck's narrative and point of view are so strongly established that Twain himself has been accused of writing a racist novel, and his book is regularly banned, when, in fact, Twain was excoriating America for its racism. In Jen's book the character is lost, and her replacement becomes the author pretending not to speak in her own voice. Instead of leaving the novel squarely in the unresolved and unresolvable dilemma the story demands, Jen adds a nine-page epilogue. In it, she races to tell us the fates of all of the book's principal characters. Here again, the story ceases to be Mona's and the book takes on the cast of autobiographical self-justification. And if it is not that, it is a failure to see and fulfil the fiction.