Review: The Fortunes of Jaded Women by Carolyn Huynh

This is a humorous and emotional saga of a Vietnamese family in America. Though not a perfect book for me, I expect this book will resonate quite a bit with those who are mothers and who are Vietnamese-American. Generations ago, the family is cursed because a woman runs off with a man who isn’t her husband. The curse is that this family will bear only daughters, not sons. Only a son can welcome a dead mother’s spirit into their home, so a woman who bears only daughters will have no place to rest in the afterlife.

I received an advanced reading copy of this book, but it’s challenging to review because it’s steeped in Vietnamese-American culture and language. I enjoyed those elements, only that I don’t feel I could review this book as well as someone who is Vietnamese-American themselves. There were aspects of this story that were harder for me to relate to, but others I certainly could, such as estranged family members, to competition among siblings, to the difficulty of figuring out who you are and what you want in life.

I could definitely relate to this book as a daughter. And while not a mother myself, I appreciated how hard the mothers in this book tried to give their daughters the best lives possible — while at the same time making them absolutely miserable. I could appreciate all the struggles these women faced in terms of adapting to the U.S. and building family and economic stability, and the one place they have some control is raising their daughters. Each mother in this book is so sure she knows what’s best, and it’s hard seeing their daughters make all the mistakes they did Yet they also struggle to understand their daughters’ differences, like not wanting a high-powered career, flashy jewelry, or a wealthy husband. Their outlet for their frustration is to compete with their sisters for who has the most successful offspring.

I appreciated Huynh’s insights into how Asian women are treated in America — the ways that Asian women are both fetishized and diminished by white men was truly appalling. Huynh’s depiction of Mark is particularly memorable. The guy only dates Asian women (younger and younger), he insists on going to the most “authentic” Asian restaurants, and then he spends all his time telling the servers about his life-changing experiences living in the East. It’s funny, but it’s not.

One of the reasons I didn’t love this book was the large number of characters and narrators – the perspectives switched so quickly I never felt I got to know any one character, which is a problem for me. I particularly wanted to know more about the sister in Saigon; her story disappointed me. Also, keeping track of the family members and how each were related was distracting, particularly given similar names like Thy and Tho, and Mai and Minh.

It’s written in a really humorous, over-the-top way, which made me think of Dial A for Aunties a bit. The women in this book don’t just yell, they have outright food fights and are evicted from restaurants. Readers who like Alice Hoffman will also appreciate the fantastic elements of the book, with its psychic predictions and magical potions. But that’s where focusing on fewer characters would have given this book more depth. I enjoyed both the humor and the magical realism but it didn’t feel “real” to me.

I enjoyed one recurring theme of this book, which is how many cultures value sons above daughters. I come from a daughters-only family myself, and it’s amazing to me how often, even today, it gets commented on, like there’s something wrong with that. The other theme is that even in the most estranged families, there’s a way to come back together and support each other. Those important family relationships can be rebuilt – not easily, and not without some damage, but they can be restored.

Note: I received an advanced reading copy from NetGalley and publisher Atria Books. This book published September 6, 2022.

  3 comments for “Review: The Fortunes of Jaded Women by Carolyn Huynh

  1. September 26, 2022 at 7:39 am

    I am interested in this, but I do not like books with too many characters and POV switching … for some reason that feels like a trend these days, and it’s really hard to do well. It sounds appealing that there is a theme of “even in the most estranged families, there’s a way to come back together and support each other. ” These days I want to learn about the possibilities of reconciliation in difficult circumstances. So that alone might make it worth checking out.

    • September 27, 2022 at 11:47 am

      This was a nice family story but not a book I would recommend to you for really getting into complicated family drama. Now you’ve got me thinking about good, meaty family stories, that would be a great topic to explore! And the frequent POV switching definitely detracted from this story.

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