In Chinese, the closest expression to oh my god is wo de ma ya. It's an interjection, a polite expletive, something to say when you're out of words. Translated literally, it means oh my mother--the instinctual first person you think of when you're on the cusp of losing it, or putting it all together. In each essay of this memoir, journalist Connie Wang explores her complicated relationship to her stubborn and charismatic mother, Qing Li, through the "oh my god" moments in their travels together.
In the sections devoted to her parents’ attempts to adapt to their new surroundings — and their insistence on keeping old traditions alive — Wang writes with the humor and authority that only a daughter of immigrant parents could have ... Sometimes it feels like this book can’t decide what it wants to be. Some of the essays get sidelined by Wang’s kvetching about her childhood.
Restricted to earlier chapters, Qing’s storied wrath and personal background become somewhat dulled, and brief discussions of such elements as a precarious family dynamic leave readers searching for a missed reference. While this structure reduces some of the narrative tension, it is a strong, refreshing counterpoint to the story of immigrant suffering that Qing insists Americans prefer. Eschewing voyeurism for an empathetic, nuanced study of a subject never fully revealed, Wang drives to the heart of how a daughter comes to know her mother as someone with a life beyond motherhood.