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A new take on 'Pride and Prejudice' brings readers to 2000s New York Chinatown

C.K. Chau says the themes and conflicts in <em>Pride and Prejudice</em> are universal.
Tony Tulathimutte
C.K. Chau says the themes and conflicts in Pride and Prejudice are universal.

C.K. Chau's fresh take on a centuries-old story brings Pride and Prejudice to early 2000s New York City Chinatown.

Who is she? C.K. Chau, author of the new book Good Fortune, retells the classic enemies-to-lovers story through the experience of a Cantonese American family.

  • Originally published in 1813, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice has been retold by numerous authors, and inspired countless more stories and characters in media – from Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin, to Julia Quinn's Bridgerton series (and its subsequent, hugely popular Netflixadaptation) to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith.    
  • Despite being retold one billion times, the story refuses to die. That's because its themes and conflicts are universal, Chau said. Here's what she told All Things Considered's Ailsa Chang:
  • There's a family story at the heart of it. There's a love story. And it's a love story between these two leads, but it's also a love story between Elizabeth and her mother in some ways. And on top of that, I think that the concerns of the book about money, about class, about making sure that the people you want to impress are impressed by you are really timeless emotions. I think it carries you throughout your life, and it ages with you as all the great stories do.

    / Harper Collins
    Harper Collins

    What's the big deal? By recasting the Bennets as a Cantonese, working-class immigrant family, Chau hoped to fill a gap in the Pride and Prejudice canon.

  • Chau's retelling follows the story of the Chens, a big family sharing a tiny New York apartment. They run a restaurant and hustle to make ends meet. 
  • Importantly, they speak Cantonese (not just "Chinese"):
  • "I think because of the size of the Chinese American diaspora, we've gotten a lot of narratives that cleave towards certain migration groups or patterns. And I wanted to see a section of that community that I was very familiar with and that I grew up around. And that was working-class Chinese immigrants.

  • Good Fortune aims to celebrate the Cantonese language, Chau said. Despite having over 85 million speakers worldwide, Chau said she rarely sees Cantonese appear in stories in any substantial way – often only acknowledged as a character detail or dialect. "Just please don't call it a dialect," she warns readers in the first chapter, emphasizing the importance of the distinction. 

  • Listen to full All Things Considered interview with C.K. Chau by tapping the play button at the top.

    What are people saying? If you like romance novels or you're craving a Chinese spin on a classic, you'll probably be into Good Fortune.

  • And if you are wondering whether there are enough Pride and Prejudice adaptations already, Noah Berlatsky's reviewfor the Los Angeles Times says the book makes a strong case for a resounding "no."
  • In Good Fortune, working-class life is neither pure misery nor set dressing: It is companionship and solidarity, and it is a narrative engine. In re-classing the Bennets, Chau both uncovers new layers in the original and reveals some of what Austen left out.

  • Goodreads user Bkwmlee had this to say about the book:
  • I can't emphasize enough how rare it is to see Cantonese culture — my culture — represented so authentically in a mainstream American novel ... I loved how Chau was able to seamlessly work in so many elements from a culture that I was more than familiar with: the family-run Chinese restaurant where everyone was expected to chip in to keep the business afloat; the nosy and gossipy neighborhood aunties with their relentlessly prying questions ... the Cantonese turns-of-phrases sprinkled throughout the dialogue ... the descriptions of local Cantonese cuisine and dishes that, frankly, made me salivate.

    Learn more:

  • In 'Family Lore,' award-winning YA author Elizabeth Acevedo turns to adult readers
  • Some books are made for summer. NPR staffers share their all-time favorites
  • After the death of his wife, actor Richard E. Grant vowed to find joy every day
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Kai McNamee
    [Copyright 2024 NPR]

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