The Fortunes of Jaded Women by Carolyn Huynh
Published by Atria Books
Adult, Literary Fiction, Magical Realism
Release Date : September 7th 2022
Everyone in Orange County’s Little Saigon knew that the Duong sisters were cursed.
It started with their ancestor Oanh who dared to leave her marriage for true love—so a fearsome Vietnamese witch cursed Oanh and her descendants so that they would never find love or happiness, and the Duong women would give birth to daughters, never sons.
Oanh’s current descendant Mai Nguyen knows this curse well. She’s divorced, and after an explosive disagreement a decade ago, she’s estranged from her younger sisters, Minh Pham (the middle and the mediator) and Khuyen Lam (the youngest who swears she just runs humble coffee shops and nail salons, not Little Saigon’s underground). Though Mai’s three adult daughters, Priscilla, Thuy, and Thao, are successful in their careers (one of them is John Cho’s dermatologist!), the same can’t be said for their love life. Mai is convinced they might drive her to an early grave.
Desperate for guidance, she consults Auntie Hua, her trusted psychic in Hawaii, who delivers an unexpected prediction: this year, her family will witness a marriage, a funeral, and the birth of a son. This prophecy will reunite estranged mothers, daughters, aunts, and cousins—for better or for worse.
A multi-narrative novel brimming with levity and candor, The Fortunes of Jaded Women is about mourning, meddling, celebrating, and healing together as a family. It shows how Vietnamese women emerge victorious, even if the world is against them.
Everyone in Orange County’s Little Saigon knew the Dương sisters were cursed.
ARC provided by the publisher Atria Books through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
The Fortunes of Jaded Women is the embodiment of the good, the bad, and the ugly of a mother-daughter relationship, encapsulated within the pages of a book. A fascinatingly raw view point of familial love that is equal parts dramatic and emotional.
For the longest time I’ve searched for a book that can deliver that buzz from reading a good book that unapologetically tells a story about something that is personal and dear to the author’s heart. I also wanted to find a story that remind me of that feeling of reading a story about Asian families. The last one I’ve read that fits this vibe I was looking for was Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. Now I am happy to say that I found that buzz again in an ARC that is graciously granted to me by the publishers through NetGalley titled The Fortunes of Jaded Women by Carolyn Huynh.
Honestly, when I requested this ARC I didn’t fully read the synopsis because as a reader I always go into a book blind. What caught my attention initially was the words Vietnamese women, curse, and family. That was enough buzz words to get me to request the book. Plus the constant promotion I’ve seen from my fellow book bloggers and writers hyping up this book.
Before I continue on into the review I would like to spotlight the beautiful cover that highlights the story contained within the book done by Sandra Chiu and art direction from Min Choi. It is such a simple cover that speaks louder about the story than you might think and the gorgeous sea foam green really makes this book stand out.
Though the outside looked idyllic, the inside of the house was far from the promise of the American dream.
The Fortunes of Jaded Women is a story about three generations of a Vietnamese-American family, the Duongs, that is famous for their very public familial drama and curse that seems to follow them for generations especially the women. It all started when Oanh Duong that started this curse when she decided to leave her first marriage for love. All the Duong women since then are blessed only with daughters and never sons.
The story is told from the perspectives of the current descendants of Oanh Duong, starting off with the matriarch Ly Minh Duong and her three daughter, Mai Nguyen (the eldest sister) and her daughters : Priscilla, Thuy, and Thao; Minh Pham (the middle sister) and her only daughter Joyce; and Khuyen Lam (the youngest sister) and her daughters : Elaine and Christine. Though there is a fourth sister and eldest before Mai from Lyn Minh Duong’s first marriage that isn’t mentioned until later in the story, Kim Luong and her daughters : Lily and Rosie.
Mai and Minh’s daughters are all spread around the globe while Khuyen’s daughters still live within Orange County running her nail salons and coffee shop. While Kim’s daughter are the youngest amongst the daughters with Lily being in a different state and Rosie still living with Kim.
Was it too late to fix her relationship with her daughters?
As you can see The Fortunes of Jaded Women involves a lot of characters and perspectives. I understand that this can overwhelm a few readers but I’d argue the more readers progress into the story, readers will be familiarized with the names and the colourful personalities of the characters. Each character have their own signature behaviour, personality, and sometimes tag line that shows their individuality. Huynh masterful skill in smoothly transitioning perspectives between each women makes it easier for readers to catch up on each character with no worry for confusion whatsoever. This is proof that this what makes the story succeed in telling a story about a multi generational family.
Though there are a lot of characters in this story the book can easily be broken down to two halfs. The first half focused more on the second generation of Duong women : Mai, Minh, Khuyen, and Kim. The relationship between the sisters and their mother is the central focus of the plot. How the first and second generation found closure to reconcile after years of estrangement. The road to healing isn’t at all peaceful and calm. It takes a lot fights, stubborn arguments, and the slow painful release of pent up anger to get the Duong sisters to reconcile their decades long rivalry.
The second half of the story focuses more on the daughters : Priscilla, Thuy, Thao, Joyce, Elaine, Christine, Lily, and Rosie. The third generation of Duongs either yeeted themselves out of their mother’s grasps to a different state or country or stayed within their area code but is stuck unable to progress further. They are slowly pulled by an invisible magnet that once cursed the Duong women that now bring them together.
“In true love there is no pride. Thích Nhất Hạnh”
Huynh weaves themes about family, love, and what it means being an Asian woman through the eyes of three generations of Vietnamese women living far away from their home country maneuvering through the ups and downs of life to survive. The resilience of these Viet women through their sacrifices, stubborn will, and unwavering love for their daughters can relate deeply for readers who are Asian decent as this story hits close to home.
Not to mention the multi-generational eldest daughter struggles depicted in these characters with all their emotional burden and expectations written emotionally hard hitting in these pages. Even though I am a middle child, I am the only daughter in my family, so I still know what it feels like to wear multiple hats to keep the family together.
This book also explores the views of Asians through the white male gaze as they fetishize Asian women for the colour of their skin, their origin, and their heritage. How Asian women are boiled down to mere traits, stereotypes, and a location pin that hides a sinisterly toxic skewed views of male masculinity. Huynh definitely did not hold back in showing how disgusting the views of men with yellow fever is.
Out of all the themes Huynh highlighted the theme that defined the whole soul of The Fortunes of Jaded Women is the mother-daughter relationships between the characters. The relationship depicted by Huynh is deeply personal and relatable. Each mother in this book represents a certain worry that comes with motherhood and the complicated relationship that reflects real life experiences only a mother-daughter would know. For me personally I see me and my mother in these women. Their struggle, fights, and love for each other mirrors mine deeply.
The family was together again, after several decades apart, and she was grateful to be alive to see everyone’s faces one last time. The women weren’t perfect, but no Vietnamese woman was.
It is very hard to put down The Fortunes of Jaded women once I started reading. The development of the characters and overall plot go hand in hand. I want to highlight a certain scene (without spoilers) that is the peak of drama and plot of the story. That chapter deserves legendary status. When I thought things were already bad it got even worse and worse which made it even more fun to read. I flew through that chapter screaming and cackling like a hyena.
The magical realism aspect is something that is familiar—the psychic—as it is something that I have witnessed among the older generation from friends and family in my lifetime. It gives the story that spark to draw me in and immerse myself because it is hard to predict what will happen when supernatural powers are at work behind the scene.
This time, this generation, it would be different.
Final thoughts, The Fortunes of Jaded Women is a brilliant love letter for Asian women and Asian families in general. It is a story that keeps on giving from the intriguing plot to the colourful and fleshed out characters (that are mostly women). For the longest time I have dreamed about a book that is like The Fortunes of Jaded Women and I am so thankful to Carolyn Huynh for writing this story. Seeing a representation of me, my mother, my heritage, and other Asian women alike in this book is just out of this world.
I highly recommend The Fortunes of Jaded Women for any reader, whether you like literary fiction or contemporary or fantasy, especially if you are from Asia or of Asian decent. From the plethora of characters I am sure that any reader will find themselves in the characters. If you’re looking for an exciting, dramatic, and emotional book about a multi generational family set in modern settings that focus on themes such as familial love, womanhood, motherhood, and being an Asian immigrant in America, The Fortunes of Jaded Women is for you.
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.