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Chinese Fish

144 pages
Paperback, 21 x 14.8 cm
Published June 2023
ISBN 9781922725448

Chinese Fish

Grace Yee

Winner of the Victorian Prize for Literature 2024

Orders for this book exploded after it won the Victorian Prize for Literature! It depleted our stock in just a few days, but please be assured we are reprinting it in quantity, and will send customers copies as soon as possible.

When Ping leaves Hong Kong to live in the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand, she discovers that life in the Land of the Long White Cloud is not the prosperous paradise she was led to believe it would be. Every day she works in a rat-infested shop frying fish, and every evening she waits for her wayward husband, armed with a vacuum cleaner to ‘suck all the bad thing out’. Her four children are a brood of monolingual aliens. Eldest daughter Cherry struggles with her mother’s unhappiness and the responsibility of caring for her younger siblings, especially the rage-prone, meat-cleaver-wielding Baby Joseph.

Chinese Fish is a family saga that spans the 1960s through to the 1980s. Narrated in multiple voices and laced with archival fragments and scholarly interjections, it offers an intimate glimpse into the lives of women and girls in a community that has historically been characterised as both a ‘yellow peril’ menace and an exotic ‘model minority’.

WINNER: Victorian Prize for Literature 2024
WINNER: Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards – Poetry 2024
LONGLISTED: Ockham New Zealand Book Awards – Poetry 2024

A major poetic work of feminist, so-called ‘minority’ writing, its originality and brilliance more than earning its space alongside such works as Kathleen Fallon’s Working Hot, Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands, and Alison Whittaker’s Blakwork.
Marion May Campbell

Yee focuses on women’s experience; particularly, how migration tests the relationship between a mother and her daughter. She tells this story with sparkling humour, wit, and stylistic verve, while paying sustained attention to historical circumstance – particularly everyday racism and the discriminatory government policies which affected Chinese migrants.
Judges’ comments, Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards

As visually provocative as it is poetic, Chinese Fish portrays the fractured, multilayered, imperiled body of the immigrant story in a stunning work of genre-bending prose poetry. Yee has given the Chin family a literary resting place as complex and as searing as the New Zealand in which they survived.
Juli Min, Editor of The Shanghai Literary Review

An unflinchingly honest look at life behind closed doors, where resentment simmers, generations clash, and individual dreams are set aside for the interests of family.
Chris Tse, New Zealand Poet Laureate

An utterly mesmerising, richly textured and polyphonic collection of poems that detail familial and migratory histories of the Chinese in Aotearoa. Yee engages in deep play of oral and written legacies through riveting, interconnected sequences. Chinese Fish is a complex and deeply intelligent examination of who and what we choose to record, and what slips between the lines.
Eileen Chong

Brilliant…Visually rich and poetically stunning, Chinese Fish is for those who enjoyed Thuy On’s Decadence or Sarah Holland-Batt’s The Jaguar.
Ana Brawls, Books+Publishing

What sets this work apart is its daring approach – it leaps across genres and forms, sometimes on a single page…Chinese Fish is a layered and thoughtful work that reveals more through multiple readings.
Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen, Saturday Paper

Poetry of captivating clarity…a joyous celebration of the materiality of a life, of the chaotic sights and smells of a family life which is loud, disorganised, and adept at adapting its rituals to a society that is silent, organised, and judgemental.
Jennifer Mackenzie, Cordite

About the Author

Grace Yee

Grace Yee lives in Melbourne, on Wurundjeri land. Her poetry has been widely published and anthologised across Australia and internationally, and has been awarded the Patricia Hackett Prize, the Peter Steele Poetry Award, a Creative Fellowship at the State Library Victoria, and grants from Creative Victoria and the Australia Council for the Arts. Grace has taught at Deakin University and The University of Melbourne, where she completed a PhD on settler Chinese women’s storytelling in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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Videos

Grace Yee reads a poem from Chinese Fish.

Awards

WINNER: Victorian Prize for Literature 2024

WINNER: Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards – Poetry 2024

LONGLISTED: Ockham New Zealand Book Awards – Poetry 2024

Related News

Transcript: Marion May Campbell’s launch speech for Chinese Fish

Chinese Fish is a brilliantly devised, comic feat of cultural resistance; a fantastically polyphonic verse novel majoring in riotously funny and heartbreaking ways, the minoritised experience of three generations of a Chinese family, who in the 1960s migrate from Hong Kong to Aotearoa / New Zealand, or, as white Australians hypocritically used to joke, the land of the wrong white crowd.’

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Transcript: Grace Yee at the launch of Chinese Fish

‘We all grew up communicating in this hybrid language that we later couldn’t teach or hand down to our own children, because it was so make-shift, transitional…I am very happy to have written a little of it down now for posterity, in this book.’

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A poem by Grace Yee from Chinese Fish

Read a poem from page 49 of the Melbourne-based poet’s 2023 collection, described by Chris Tse as ‘an unflinchingly honest look at life behind closed doors, where resentment simmers, generations clash, and individual dreams are set aside for the interests of family.’

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Grace Yee: a note on Chinese Fish

‘The title feels a little treacherous, almost illicit: a talking back that flies in the face of the ‘model minority’ imperatives we were brought up with – be quiet, lie low, know your place – all of which were amplified for women and girls.’

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