The End of East.


256 pages
ISBN 978-0-676-97839-1
DDC C813'.6





Reviewed by Lori A. Dunn

Lori A. Dunn is a ESL teacher, instructional designer, and freelance
writer in New Westminster, B.C.


The End of East is a bittersweet love story and family epic, celebrating the difficulties and the wonders of Vancouver’s Chinatown from the time Seid Quan arrives as a young man at the turn of the century to when his granddaughter Sammy returns in the present day. The story of the three generations are woven together, moving seamlessly between Seid Quan’s first years in Canada, his granddaughter’s modern-day difficulties, and his son’s perceptions growing up in Canada.


Chronologically, the story is the classic tale of the Canadian-Chinese family: the young man arrives to work, sending money home to his village in China. He returns to the village to marry but can only visit his wife and baby son twice more, so that when the young boy is sent to Canada to live with his father, they are virtual strangers. It is not until years later that Shew Lin, the wife, can come to Canada herself. This scenario, common in the histories of the Canadian-Chinese, is given new life in this rendition. In The End of East, Jen Sookfong Lee has brought all of these elements together and interlaced the stories of the individuals from their own points of view. Her descriptive language eloquently captures the disconnection that each generation faces.


Lee’s prose is poetic and insightful in its description, especially when centred on the characters’ emotional disappointments, such as Shew Lin’s loving disconnection from her husband and her mistrust of her daughter-in-law. The awkwardness of granddaughter Sammy’s sexual encounter in the story is captured with the tantalizing line: “the rippling of bad intentions under the surface, somewhere beneath his smooth, cool skin, only makes him sexier.”


Throughout the novel, Chinatown and Vancouver represent all that is oppressive and all that is beautiful. Each character has a personal relationship with the city and the pall of the climate. At times the constant overcast is beautiful, as in the line: “Through the window, he can see the overcast night sky, the moonlight reflected on the silvery undersides of the clouds.” Other times, it is resigned: “One morning, she woke and realized that she had come to accept the drizzle, that she had grown resigned to the squelch of rubber boots, the smell of damp wool on the bus.” Ultimately, this novel is a tribute to all that is bittersweet about family, represented in the characters’ attitudes towards the city-within-a-city that is Vancouver’s Chinatown: “it remains an uncut diamond in the back of my mind—shining dully, its glow persistent and unflagging.”


Lee, Jen Sookfong., “The End of East.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 19, 2024,