Paper Shadows: A Chinatown Childhood


342 pages
Contains Photos
ISBN 0-670-87709-3
DDC C813'.54





Reviewed by Steve Pitt

Steve Pitt is a Toronto-based freelance writer and an award-winning journalist. He has written many young adult and children's books, including Day of the Flying Fox: The True Story of World War II Pilot Charley Fox.


In 1995, Wayson Choy was touring Canada to promote The Jade Peony, a
novel based on his memories of growing up as a “Mo-no” (the Chinese
word for someone who is born Chinese but knows nothing about Chinese
ways). After a radio interview in Vancouver, Choy received an unexpected
phone call from an elderly Chinese woman.

“I saw your mother last week,” the stranger said. Choy calmly
assured the woman that she was mistaken. He himself had witnessed his
mother’s death in a hospital bed 18 years before. “I mean your real
mother,” the woman replied, insisting that Choy had been adopted.
Although Choy knew that the stranger’s words were preposterous, to
reassure himself he mentioned the incident to one of his aunts. To his
astonishment, Choy’s aunt confirmed the stranger’s claim. At the age
of 57, Choy experienced the sudden crumbling of all his assumptions
about his essential identity. What dumbfounded him even more was that
for over half a century everyone in Vancouver’s Chinatown, from his
casual playmates to the corner tailor, seems to have known the truth
about his parentage. A Mo-no if there ever was one.

Paper Memories is a memoir of self-rediscovery by a man chasing his own
shadowy past. Set in Vancouver’s crowded Chinatown in the 1940s, the
book presents a fascinating crossroads of cultures. In Choy’s world,
Chinese railway ghosts skulk the same street corners as drugstore
cowboys, and Chinese opera singers compete with Laurel and Hardy for
young Wayson’s fickle affection. Choy’s prose sparkles with honesty,
humor, and lyrical turns of phrase as it expresses the book’s
quintessentially Canadian theme—a search for identity through a maze
of faded memories, false identities, and carefully guarded family


Choy, Wayson., “Paper Shadows: A Chinatown Childhood,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 13, 2024,