Paper Daughter: A Memoir

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HarperCollins, 1999 - Biography & Autobiography - 292 pages
A heartfelt and poignant memoir about the quintessential struggle to fit in -- told with wit and triumph through the eyes of a poor Chinese immigrant girl who exists in two worlds, belongs to neither, and struggle desperately to reconcile her place in both.

Born into a Single-Room Tenement Home in Hong Kong amid the wild scent of rice and bark, M. Elaine Mar dreams of the skyscrapers built by her carpenter father. But at age three, she learns to see the sky as a lonely place instead, when her father moves to America in search of a better life for the family. Two years later, at age five, Elaine and her mother are finally able to join him in Denver, where the young girl begins to learn the true cost of a better life. Caught between the pull of Hong Kong memories and Snoopy cartoons, between the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant and the Pledge of Allegiance in Denver classrooms, Elaine feels increasingly isolated and confused as she approaches adolescence and the awakening of her sexuality. She yearns for Farrah Fawcett looks, red-haired boyfriends, and store-bought clothes, while her mother has visions of an arranged marriage in Hong Kong. The struggle between mother and daughter -- tradition and independence -- escalates until Elaine is left with one choice: Leave home or lose her sense of self. Casting for a symbol of American success, she chooses Harvard University as her escape. This is the story of how she gets there -- and finds her way home again.

In chronicling her assimilation odyssey, Mar explores how she weaved between two disparate worlds but never felt at home in either. At once witty, moving, and memorable, Paper Daughter is a remarkable account of the reconciliation thattakes place when a pull toward independence and a connection to honor and tradition combine to reveal the strength Elaine finds within herself.

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User Review  - Kirkus

A funny, sometimes brutally honest, account of one Chinese immigrant's path from the tenements of Hong Kong to the halls of Harvard. What Mar captures most vividly is the difficult position occupied ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - autumnesf - LibraryThing

This book is written by a woman that moved to the states from China when she was about 4/5 years old. It was a very easy and fast read. What you learn from this book is mostly how she was treated ... Read full review


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About the author (1999)

M. Elaine Mar graduated from Harvard University in 1988. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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