The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong
By Leland Cheuk
Sulliver Pong is the youngest member of the Pong family, a multi-generational Chinese American family that lives in “Bordirtoun, USA.” He has escaped a legacy of unscrupulous family members by moving to Copenhagen and marrying a Danish woman. But his family history is never far enough away, and after a surprise visit from his father, Saul Pong, the mayor of Bordirtoun, Sulliver is lured home on the pretense that his mom is ill and needs him. Sulliver’s life will never be the same.
This swooping satire is narrated by Sulliver, who is in jail for an unknown crime he commits after returning to Bordirtoun. He shares the events that lead up to his incarceration, including his father’s attempt to involve him in a dodgy business development, his own attempt to get his mother to leave his father who is a violent philanderer, and various accidents in which Sulliver keeps injuring himself and ending up in the local hospital. The book also includes chapters recounting the Pong family history, narrating the lives of multi-generations of Pong men.
This is a funny book with a great narrative drive. As I turned the pages, I longed to know how Sulliver ended up in jail and hoped he would eventually get out from under his father’s domination, but feared he wouldn’t. This is a book about how we are all bound to our families, even as adults, but Cheuk tackles a lot of other issues, including the history of Chinese immigrants in the US, domestic violence, urban renewal and corrupt local politics. This is an engaging and original family story that challenges the notion of the model Asian-American family and creates some memorable moments as Sulliver finds his way in Bordirtoun as an adult.
Cheuk lives in Brooklyn. I interviewed him last year about “firsts” that happened when he was publishing this book. I also know him in person and have read his short stories, which are also funny and engaging. He is about to go on a West Coast book tour and has a reading in Brooklyn next Monday, February 15th.