Tzarina T. Prater
Kerry Young, Pao: A Novel (New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2011); 270 pages; ISBN 978-1608195077 (paper).
Kerry Young’s first novel, Pao, opens in 1945 at the close of World War II, with a romance. The central protagonist is the titular Pao, a Chinese Jamaican who emigrates with his family to Jamaica during the interwar period. The narrative action begins with Pao and his “boys” hanging out in his shop, when in walks Gloria Campbell, a black prostitute and madam, seeking help to avenge her sister who has been savagely beaten by a white American sailor. Pao’s attraction to Gloria is immediate, and despite their differences they embark on a lifelong relationship. The strength of Pao’s feelings for Gloria is not enough to challenge the edicts of his father figure/mentor, “Uncle” Zhang, who is the leader of illegal activity in Chinatown. Pao is forbidden to marry a black woman who does not do “honourable” work and is instructed to find a “proper” Chinese woman who can give him access to respectability and old world patriarchal power. Marriage, Pao is told, “is not for celebrating. It is something you do to give your children a name” (6). Eventually Pao does just that. He finds a woman who embodies what is “proper”—Fay Wong, daughter of Henry Wong, a Chinese supermarket owner, and Cicely Wong, a black Jamaican woman. (more…)