BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Unpolished Gem: My Mother, My Grandmother, and Me by Alice Pung

Unpolished GemAlready a many-time-many-variety award-winner in her native Australia, Alice Pung‘s debut memoir arrives Stateside filled with humor and bittersweet grace. Born one month after her family arrived in Melbourne, Australia, after fleeing the killing fields of Cambodia, Pung’s father chooses her name for “a story translated from English that he read in his youth, about an enchanted land in which a little girl finds herself. This new daughter of his will grow up in this Wonder Land and take for granted things like security, abundance, democracy and the little green man on the traffic lights. She will grow up not ever knowing what it is like to starve.”

Surrounded by her extended family (ever growing), like many children of new immigrants, Pung grows up treading between the new culture into which she is born and the sometimes conflicting traditions most comfortable for her parents and grandparents. She comes of age, trying to please both her distant mother and her indulgent paternal grandmother. As the oldest child – and a girl even! – she is reminded again and again of the Cambodian saying, “A girl is like white cotton wool – once dirtied it can never be clean again. A boy is like a gem – the more you polish it, the more it shines.” In spite of a debilitating period of depression near high school’s end, Pung manages to shine and more.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2009 (United States)


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