history / nonfiction / review

Mott Street: A Chinese American Family’s Story of Exclusion and Homecomingby Ava Chin

I was a little disappointed by Mott Street. It’s a fascinating history and family story but I felt like the author veered too far into the speculative at times. Sometimes she would start anecdotes with phrases like “I wonder if this is what it was like”, “Maybe she felt like this” which is fine and made it clear she didn’t actually know people’s reactions or thoughts about the events she is writing about but other times the writing was quite florid and read like bad historical fiction.

She wrote a lot of dialogue and internal monologues she’d have no way of knowing. It was very inconsistently spread throughout the book (and even on the literal page). It was jarring to read those passages right after some very factual research.

I don’t like stilted, made up dialogue in nonfiction in general but I felt like it stood out even more because she flipped and flopped between very well researched paragraphs, some with made up scenarios and discussion and sections where she was making it clear this was her own musings.

I loved the pictures and when she included newspaper articles and other information from time she found in various archives. I liked the family stories. But it was hard to really get into when she kept veering into the purple prose. It didn’t need it and made the book read as sloppy and rushed and I don’t think it actually was.

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