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All That Work and Still No Boys

Kathryn Ma

Publication Year: 2009

How do we survive our family, stay bound to our community, and keep from losing ourselves?  In All That Work and Still No Boys, Kathryn Ma exposes the deepest fears and longings that we mask in family life and observes the long shadows cast by history and displacement. 

Here are ten stories that wound and satisfy in equal measure. Ma probes the immigrant experience, most particularly among northern California’s Chinese Americans, illuminating for us the confounding nature of duty, transformation, and loss. A boy exposed to racial hatred finds out the true difference between his mother and his father. Two old rivals briefly lay down their weapons, but loneliness and despair won’t let them forget the past. A young Beijing tour guide with a terrible family secret must take an adopted Chinese girl and her American family to visit an orphanage. And in the prize-winning title story, a mother refuses to let her son save her life, insisting instead on a sacrifice by her daughter. 

Intimate in detail and universal in theme, these stories give us the compelling voice of an exciting new author whose intelligence, insight, and wit impart a sense of grace to the bitter resentments and enduring ties that comprise family love. Even through the tensions Ma creates so deftly, the peace and security that come from building and belonging to one’s own community shine forth.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

Series: Iowa Short Fiction Award

Contents [With Acknowledgements]

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All That Work and Still No Boys

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pp. 1-20

Barbara’s mother needs a new kidney, and Lawrence is the best match. “No, no,” says her mother. “One of the girls will be fine.” “It’s okay, Ma,” says Lawrence. Barbara sees him reach for something small at the top of Ma’s shelf, so she knows it’s costing him to sound enthusiastic. It’s an...

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Second Child

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pp. 21-37

A child is missing, the only boy in the group, one white boy out of twenty-three children. Everyone else got back to the buses on time except for Sam, twelve years old and finger-bone skinny, as soft-faced as his sister and all the rest of the girls. He’ll be hard to spot among the milling tourists. His...

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The Scottish Play

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pp. 38-55

I am making straight for my table by the window to eat when whom should I see in line behind me but Mrs. Liang, the other Chinese lady, who never used to come on Thursdays but now here she is. “Good afternoon, Mrs. Liang,” I say very nicely, “would you like to join me for lunch?” She nods...

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For Sale By Owner

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pp. 56-65

A sign has appeared in our front yard, For Sale By Owner, white letters on stiff red cardboard, tacked to a wooden pole and hammered into the grass by my father. He has written our telephone number into the blank space on the bottom of the sign, and the whole appearance of it—the wobbly...

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pp. 66-82

The press had the names in time for the evening news. Chan, leaving the hospital with one hand lightly bandaged and his tanned face untouched, checked his cell phone and saw he had fifteen calls. The ER nurse had told him that reporters were calling. You’re a hero, she had said, saving...

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What I Know Now

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pp. 83-104

I was eighteen, a year younger than my sophomore classmates, and had come to the university, an illustrious one with sandstone buildings, red tile roofs, and a chip on its shoulder, as a transfer student from the University of Nevada. My parents had used to live in Reno back when...

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pp. 105-120

I am an expert in empty houses. I haven’t paid rent in over two years. People are constantly leaving in a hurry. They have plants to water, mail to collect. They have old dogs and worried cats. They get my name from a friend of a friend, and I turn up with a tiny-sized tote—this tells them right...

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The Long Way Home

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pp. 121-129

No one in my family knows it was me who set the fire. I did it deliberately, meaning this: I made a loose pile of my sister’s eight most precious things—one for each year I bore her existence—struck a match and coaxed forth a blaze. I was eight years old; my sister Joanna was ten. I didn’t know...

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pp. 130-141

Gwen Rattle looked good when she opened the door, better than Mabel expected. She was in a black skirt and high-collared blouse. Her dark hair was bobbed short and pinned on one side with a silver clip. Mabel had tucked her own thinning hair under a small felt hat. She must have a job, thought...

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Mrs. Zhao and Mrs. Wu

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pp. 142-147

Mrs. Zhao must return to China. Cynthia does not want to think about it. She will have to start looking all over again for someone to replace her, and when is she going to find the time to do that? She will have to run an ad, or at least post a notice at the vegetable market, because she’s certainly...

E-ISBN-13: 9781587298783
E-ISBN-10: 1587298783
Print-ISBN-13: 9781587298226
Print-ISBN-10: 1587298228

Page Count: 160
Publication Year: 2009

Edition: first
Series Title: Iowa Short Fiction Award
Series Editor Byline: John Smith, Will Wordsworth See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 646846707
MUSE Marc Record: Download for All That Work and Still No Boys

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Subject Headings

  • Chinese American families -- Fiction.
  • Chinese Americans -- Fiction.
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