Summary and book reviews of The Barbarians Are Coming by David Wong Louie

The Barbarians Are Coming

By David Wong Louie

The Barbarians Are Coming
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2000,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2001,
    384 pages.

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Book Summary

A stunning depiction of the Chinese-American experience and a deeply affecting novel about fathers and sons from the author of the prizewinning story collection Pangs of Love.

"Louie is elegant, funny, a touch spooky, and he has as fine a hair-trigger control of alienation and absurdity as any of the best of his generation."--Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times Book Review

Sterling Lung grew up in the back of his parent's laundry dreaming about being a real American while speaking Chinese to his mother, English to his friends, and very little to the father he seemed always to disappoint. Now twenty-six and a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Sterling cooks French food for the WASP ladies of a private club in Connecticut and conducts an arm's-length affair with an old Swarthmore classmate, a Jewish-American Princess from New Canaan, thereby frustrating his father's dream of a doctor son and his mother's scheme for a Chinese bride. For Sterling's parents, the barbarians are not coming: they are here now.

In a tale that alternates between black comedy and out-and-out slapstick, between the pain of a son alienated from his father and a father an alien in his son's native land, The Barbarians Are Coming reveals the deep psychic wounds each man has suffered even as it ultimately leads to a reconciliation that is as moving as it is necessary. Here is a tale of the immigrant experience--indeed, of the American experience: of the deracination of the second generation and the wrenching losses of the first.

From Chapter 1

Feast or famine. My plate is suddenly full. One day my Bliss is in Iowa, studying dentistry, gazing at the gums and decay of hog farmers and their kin. She claims she can eyeball a patient's teeth and see through to what's rotten. And now she's coming home for a quick visit, a thousand miles, without even the excuse of a national holiday or school calendar break. "Don't you have teeth to clean?" I asked hopefully when she called with the news. At my insistence we use long-distance sparingly, only when something truly important comes up. Since I'm still up in the air about our future as a couple, why throw away good money until I'm sure about what I'm doing: it's the difference between carnations for her birthday and a cashmere sweater. I have us writing postcards back and forth. Short and sweet, public enough so things can never get too involved or serious. A picture's worth a thousand words.

Here's the rest of the picture: I ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. The names of characters have a special significance in The Barbarians Are Coming especially in relation to nationality. Genius and Zsa Zsa are given their American names by Lucy with a sense of ridicule and these names become permanent. Are Genius and Zsa Zsa aware of the mockery implied by these names? If so, why do they choose to accept them as opposed to selecting their own?
  2. Food, eating and cooking are intimately tied to the personalities of the members of the Lung family. What do you learn about Sterling, Genius and Zsa Zsa from their relationships with food?
  3. What qualities does Yuk possess that endear her to Genius and Zsa Zsa and spur their desire to have Sterling marry her? Are these qualities absent in ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
Los Angeles Times Book Review - Charles Solomon

Louie’s work transcends the restrictions of ethnic labels and markets. He’s not just a talented young Asian-American writer; he’s a talented young writer, period.

New York Newsday - Richard Eder

Louie is elegant, funny, a touch spooky, and he has as fine a hair-trigger control of alienation and absurdity as any of the best of his generation.

New York Newsday - Richard Eder

Louie is elegant, funny, a touch spooky, and he has as fine a hair-trigger control of alienation and absurdity as any of the best of his generation.

Publishers Weekly

An ambitious and appealing first novel, brilliant in its scathing insights.

Publishers Weekly

An ambitious and appealing first novel, brilliant in its scathing insights.

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