Joan is a 36 year old Asian American attending physician in an unnamed Manhattan hospital near Morningside Park. (Maybe St. Luke’s Sinai?) Not only is she really good at her job, she loves it. In fact, she loves it so much that she’d rather be working than engaging in any other activity. As she mentors students completing their residency, she summarizes what goes on during rounds with handouts that prove to be extremely valuable to them. She loves the standardization of procedures, the machines employed to diagnose and sustain, and the routine of the hospital. If she sounds slightly regimented and rigid, she is, but in her occupation, it’s an asset. Her family is concerned that Joan has shown no interest in finding a mate and having children. Her brother, Fang, (pronounced “Fung”) is particularly focused on helping Joan change her focus. An investment broker, he’s living the American dream: wealth, estate in Greenwich, beautiful wife, two children, and so on. He’s been badgering Joan to move to Greenwich and set up her own practice. Joan is okay with her life as it is. The plot revolves around the death of their father and the grieving process of each of the family members. The Chinese word chuang was the last word Joan spoke to her father. It can mean “to begin,” “to create something, achieve, strive.”
The Beauty: The writing in this book, especially when the thoughts going on in Joan’s head are shared, is amusing, and makes me love Joan just as she is. In the passage I’ve selected, Joan was on the phone with her mother who was visiting Fang in Greenwich. Mother was bored and wanted to drive but Fang wouldn’t let her. Mother had also talked to the DMV, but didn’t get anywhere because her American license had expired 30 years ago and she never got a Chinese one. When she mentioned her green card, Joan said, “A green card is not a license.” When her mother asked “why not?” Joan said, “Because a green card says nothing about your driving.” Then her mother began questioning Joan about her job, hoping that she made enough money and that she avoided malpractice and that she wasn’t going to be destitute. At this point, Joan was pacing outside the Seminar room at the hospital where a colleague was giving grand rounds about how to demystify pulmonary hypertension, a condition with many possible causes or an unknown cause. The arteries of the lungs are carrying blood at way too high of a pressure causing, dizziness, fatigue, chest pains, and sometimes blue-tinted skin. “Pulmonary hypertension is said to develop gradually to only worsen with time, but can possibly onset quickly without warning, like when speaking to one’s mother on the phone. “
The Food: Joan’s well-meaning neighbor, Mark, planned a surprise party for Joan to get to know her neighbors. When Joan got to her apartment there were already people there and guests were still arriving and giving her hostess gifts like wine. A Korean exchange student subletting an apartment for the year while she studied graphic design at Columbia, brought a round bowl of microwaveable rice, a tin of low-sodium Spam, and a package of Chapagetti, that turned out to be the best ramen Joan had ever had. As a ramen fan myself, I had to try it.