When books feature multigenerational storylines, I sometimes worry because, generally, it means that the plot is going to be like a sweeping epic with little humour and a lot of trauma. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but it’s not what I’m drawn to as a reader. When I read the synopsis for The Fortunes of Jaded Women by Carolyn Huynh, I could feel a sense of humour that I appreciated—not to mention there was talk of a curse and a psychic, so I was in.
Everyone in Orange County’s Little Saigon knew that the Duong sisters were cursed.
It started with their ancestor Oanh who dared to leave her marriage for true love—so a fearsome Vietnamese witch cursed Oanh and her descendants so that they would never find love or happiness, and the Duong women would give birth to daughters, never sons.
Oanh’s current descendant Mai Nguyen knows this curse well. She’s divorced, and after an explosive disagreement a decade ago, she’s estranged from her younger sisters, Minh Pham (the middle and the mediator) and Khuyen Lam (the youngest who swears she just runs humble coffee shops and nail salons, not Little Saigon’s underground). Though Mai’s three adult daughters, Priscilla, Thuy, and Thao, are successful in their careers (one of them is John Cho’s dermatologist!), the same can’t be said for their love life. Mai is convinced they might drive her to an early grave.
Desperate for guidance, she consults Auntie Hua, her trusted psychic in Hawaii, who delivers an unexpected prediction: this year, her family will witness a marriage, a funeral, and the birth of a son. This prophecy will reunite estranged mothers, daughters, aunts, and cousins—for better or for worse.
I will start off by saying that I think this is a book that you benefit from reading a paper version of (versus an eBook, like I read) because there is a little graphic at the beginning of the book that shows the lineage of the Duong family. It is the only way to be able to keep track of who is who because there are *a lot* of characters and they are often referred to by their last names and it took me a long time to keep everyone straight. That being said, the more I read it and the more familiar I became with the characters, the more I enjoyed it.
The three sisters who are at the centre of the book (Mai, Minh and Khuyen) are very quirky and from what I understand very strong stereotypes (in a loving way?) of older Vietnamese women. They are all so caught up in their own drama that they don’t have great relationships with their own daughters. It was interesting to me that there were at least 10 female characters in this story (that the plot centered on at least) and they were each unique in their own way—to some degree, anyway because some of the daughters didn’t really get much of a storyline. I really did like how we got to delve into each one of these ladies’ lives, but I feel like the story would have benefitted from having a few less characters to focus on. I can’t really talk about individual people because they get a little mixed up in my head. Plus, the drama got really soapy and farfetched at one point, which was kind of humourous, but also riduculous.
I liked reading about a culture that I knew very little about. The writer is Vietnamese herself, so I felt like I was getting insight into family dynamics that are different than me, but still kind of the same because all families are dysfunctional in their own way. The book was funny—I laughed out loud a few time—and I liked that it was a departure from the usual multi-generational drama. It was fun but overall I felt it would have benefitted from editing some people out for length and plot complications.
“I curse Oanh Duong to wander the afterlife alone. Unable to visit her children when she passes. And I curse all her children’s children, and all those who follow, to never know love and marry poorly.” —Carolyn Huynh, The Fortunes of Jaded Women
Thank you to NetGalley, Simon & Schuster Canada and Atria Books for the advanced copy and Yan Krukov on Pexels for the featured photo.