Mott Street follows Chinese American writer Ava Chin, who grew up estranged from her father, as she seeks the truth about her family history-and uncovers a legacy of exclusion and resilience that speaks to the American experience past and present. Chin's ancestors became lovers, classmates, sworn enemies, and, eventually, through her birth, kin-all while converging at a single Chinatown address.
Old family stories are hard to revivify, even when they’re good family stories ... This is the problem Ava Chin is up against in her sensitive, ambitious, well-reported, heavily peopled yet curiously remote memoir-cum-history ... It’s a book that has everything going for it except that intangible spark that crisp and confident storytelling throws off. The air is a bit still in this book, as if one is walking behind the docent on a long museum tour ... The story has a certain pageantry ... This memoir evokes emotion but, as with the made-up dialogue, Chin sometimes doesn’t trust her readers to absorb it on their own.
The book is prefaced with a family tree, which, at least for the first few chapters, the reader will need to repeatedly consult to keep the many narrative reins straight, for Chin’s book doesn’t adhere to a strictly linear telling. It bobs and weaves between the late-19th and early-20th centuries and the present day, often within the space of a single chapter ... Less successful when it awkwardly strains for a kind of grandiloquent universality ... In their abstraction...rhetorical questions cumulatively threaten to undercut the personal force of the book.
Admirable and deeply researched ... The book shines a harsh and unforgiving light on this country’s legacy of racist policies ... Her book is an important read for those interested in learning about the origins of some of today’s most hard-line immigration policy proposals in America.