Although All That Matters is the sequel to Wayson Choy’s first novel, The Jade Peony, it is actually a parallel story. Told this time from the point of view of the eldest son of the Chen family, rather than his younger siblings, the Chens have arrived in Vancouver’s Chinatown in the 1930’s, during the Great Depression and prior to World War II.
The Chen family is sponsored by Third Uncle, a distant relative who has no immediate kin to share his business with, so he arranges the passage for the Chens; father, grandmother (Poh Poh) and First Son, Kiam-Kim.
In this novel, we follow the family’s challenges through the eyes of Kiam-Kim, the First Son, who strives to uphold the honour of the family, a responsibility he takes very seriously. Kiam-Kim tries very hard to be a good example to his younger siblings as he himself comes of age in a new country, while trying to maintain the old traditions among the new ways.
Poh Poh is representative of the old ways, intriguing the children with her stories and superstitions that she uses to keep the children in line. As Kiam-Kim grows up, he becomes less caught up in these stories, being pulled into the promise that life in Canada holds for him.
Choy gives us a historical inside look into Chinatown as we go with Kiam-Kim and his father on their collection work for Third Uncle. This work introduces us to many of the families and takes us inside the poverty and struggle of many of the residents of Chinatown and the difficulties many families faced. Choy’s descriptive writing and the first person narrative of Kiam-Kim lends itself to having the reader feel like they are in the middle of the events, right there back in the early days of Gold Mountain.
I recommend this book for anyone interested in local history. I relished reading about the familiar places I often visit today and it was enjoyable to visit with the Chen family again.