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Spinster Kang

$11.99$22.95

a novel by Zoë S. Roy

Print: 978-1-77133-605-5 – $22.95
ePUB: 978-1-77133-606-2 – $11.99
PDF: 978-1-77133-608-6 – $11.99

254 Pages
May 24, 2019

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Thirty-two-year-old Kang is a new immigrant in Toronto. Having an older sister who was raped and suffers from the ensuing stigma in China, Kang is determined to remain a spinster, which has its own stigma in China, and she struggles with her fear and distrust of men. But Kang’s story is not a hard luck story. She is an intelligent woman and a successful immigrant. Kang deals with the perplexities of a different culture by maintaining a sense of curiosity, an enjoyment of learning about the new culture, and by finding humour rather than the humiliation that so often characterizes descriptions of immigrant experience. Kang rooms with Tania, a Russian immigrant, and learns that many years earlier, Tanya was in love with a Chinese medical student at Moscow University who was abruptly returned to China for having had a relationship with her. Kang’s own father once studied at that university but has never talked about it since he was forced to leave Moscow and then was labelled as a rightist during the Chinese Anti-Rightist Campaign. Since then her father has been dispatched to work and live in Kunming, a city far away from Beijing. Could the paths of her father and Tania have ever crossed? Curious about her father’s past, Kang decides to pay a visit to Moscow, accompanied by Brian, Tania’s nephew, a charming engineer who wants to explore his Russian Jewish roots. Spending time with Brian helps Kang to see how much her sister’s tragedy has shadowed her life. When Brian suddenly shows symptoms of schizophrenia, Kang must decide whether to throw her spinster’s hat away or end her relationship with Brian.

Spinster Kang



Born in China, Zoë S. Roy, an avid reader even during the Cultural Revolution, writes literary fiction with a focus on women’s cross-cultural experiences. Her publications include a collection of short stories, Butterfly Tears (2009), and two novels, The Long March Home (2011) and Calls across the Pacific (2015), all published by Inanna Publications. She holds an M.A. in Atlantic Canada Studies from Saint Mary’s University and a M.Ed. in Adult Education from the University of New Brunswick. She currently lives in Toronto and is a teacher for the Toronto Public School Board.

6 reviews for Spinster Kang

  1. Inanna Admin

    Spinster Kang by Zoë S. Roy
    reviewed by Kirkus Reviews – July 12, 2019
    https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/zoe-s-roy/spinster-kang/

    A Chinese immigrant in Toronto confronts her haunting family history.

    Thirty-something Kang moved to Canada from her native China six months ago. Her older sister, Jian, was raped years before, when Kang was 12, and the event permanently altered both their lives. Jian’s life was all but ruined, and Kang would view men with wary suspicion; back in China, she was labeled a “spinster,” and in Canada, she remains so closed to the idea of dating that she questions her identity: “Am I a woman? Kang sometimes asked herself. She certainly did not want to be a woman like her sister…abandoned by her fiancé, and married to a man without love.” She works hard and lives frugally in order to save enough to go back to school and become certified to teach, as she did in China. She finds a promising deal—a room with free rent in exchange for providing assistance to 60-something Tania, who grew up in the suburbs of Moscow during the Soviet era. Kang proofreads her memoir and is struck by the USSR’s similarities to China during the Cultural Revolution. She realizes that Tania’s biography overlaps with her own father’s, as he was a medical student in Moscow; this is particularly intriguing, as her dad’s past has always been shrouded in mystery. Meanwhile, she begins to fall for Tania’s nephew, Brian, and the two decide to travel to Russia, united in a desire to explore their roots. In this novel, Roy (Calls across the Pacific, 2015, etc.) powerfully describes the dark legacy of Kang’s sister’s sexual assault, which affected the entire family. Her transparent prose belies the story’s psychological complexity as Kang’s assiduous march into the future is shadowed by history. Both her father and sister suffered from the effects of different kinds of evil—Jian from a rapist, and her father from an oppressive state. Over the course of the story, the author manages to construct an exquisite exploration of the insidious power of personal history, combined with an unconventional account of the immigrant experience.

    A thoughtful and provocative depiction of how the past makes claims on the present.

  2. Inanna Admin

    A review of Spinster Kang by Zoë S. Roy
    reviewed by Compulsive Reader – August 17, 2019
    http://www.compulsivereader.com/2019/08/17/a-review-of-spinster-kang-by-by-zoe-s-roy/

    I first read Zoë S. Roy’s fourth novel, Spinster Kang, in an early draft about five years ago when Roy and I were trading chapters. I’m pleased that the book is now published. Though I enjoyed reading an early draft, the book has developed into a perfectly crafted, moving story about migration and culture, transformation and love. The book opens as Kang, a relatively new Toronto migrant, is leaving work after a long shift selling coffee and donuts. Kang is hard working and eager to learn about her new country. In China Kang was stigmatised as a spinster for remaining unmarried into her thirties after being traumatised by her sister Jian’s rape which has caused her to develop a mistrust of men. This is further exacerbated by Jian’s ongoing abuse at the hands of the husband she later marries. Kang’s narrative arc takes her on a journey of self-discovery as she begins to meet and interact with people from a range of cultures, and as she also begins to uncover secrets about her own family back home.

    Kang’s new landlord is Tania Shapirovsky, who turns out to have more of a connection with Kang than either of them know. This becomes clear when Tania hires Kang to proofread Tania’s memoir. This story-within-the-story about Tania’s youth in Russia fascinates Kang to the point where Kang, who studies hard as she trains to become a teacher, decides to take a trip to Moscow with her new boyfriend, Tania’s nephew Brian. Brian’s growing odd behaviour, his own family tragedy, and Kang’s relationship to Tania’s story keep the story moving forward quickly.

    Kang is a well-created, likeable character, who draws the reader in with her naïve and open countenance and her rapid narrative arc. Throughout the novel, the writing is richly evocative and particularly astute in its depiction of place, bringing in a migrants sense of wonder at the distinctive qualities of Toronto:

    She shivered in the still cold April breeze. The land seemed half awake; the fresh green of springtime was beginning to appear. Geese waddled on the newly sprouted grass, robins hopped on the roadside, and the sunshine kissed the awakening land. It was so beautiful, she thought, and then she felt a twinge of loneliness. With whom could she share the joy of these new surroundings?(30)

    Roy combines a broad range philosophical, political, psychological and historical threads, tying them smoothly to Kang’s development in a way that is both appealing and easy to read. The book explores Freudian theory, the Chinese cultural revolution which Kang was born in the middle of and which Roy covers particularly well, the relationship between China and the former Soviet Union, particular in the transition from Stalin’s rule in the late 1950s to the Khrushchev government, the impact of dictatorships, of social mores, the ongoing and multi-generational impact of trauma, mental illness, migration and cross-cultural relationships. Kang’s deep desire to integrate into her adopted country, her exploration of Canadian customs and the differences between those and her own country’s norms, as well as her quiet openness to learn new things is beautifully written and carefully depicted through Kang’s point of view, from the very opening of the book:

    Coffee cups and donuts danced before her eyes in the soft glow of the streetlight, their circular shapes overlapping and swirling with the snowflakes. The biting wind whipped her face and slowed her steps, and her sneakers slid on the snow. It was early March, but it was colder in Toronto than in Beijing. (1)

    Kang experiences racism and sexism in Canada, which she deals with stoically, and which Roy handles subtly, but it’s clear, from the SARs outbreak that cause people to avoid Kang, to the rejection she receives when she shuns the clumsy advances of a young man named Shang, that part of Kang’s journey is to understand and unpack some of the external sociological forces that hold her back from her own self-realisation. Kang’s journey is as much an inner one as an outer one, and although other characters like Brian and Tania are carefully created and appealing, Spinster Kang very much remains Kang’s story. The novel is rich with sensual details, from the delicious Chinese, Russian and Canadian foods that are prepared at holiday gatherings and recollected through the story to the experiences that Kang has as she falls in love, faces her past, and travels. Spinster Kang is a warm-hearted, delightful story that will engage readers of all interests.

  3. Inanna Admin

    Spinster Kang by Zoë S. Roy
    reviewed by Midwest Book Review – September 19, 2019
    http://www.midwestbookreview.com/sbw/sep_19.htm#generalfiction

    Synopsis: Thirty-two-year-old Kang is a new immigrant in Toronto. Having an older sister who was raped and suffers from the ensuing stigma in China, Kang is determined to remain a spinster and struggles with her fear and distrust of men. But Kang’s story is not a hard luck story. She is an intelligent woman and a successful immigrant. Kang deals with the perplexities of a different culture by maintaining a sense of curiosity, an enjoyment of learning about the new culture, and by finding humour rather than the humiliation that so often characterizes descriptions of immigrant experience.

    Kang rooms with Tania, a Russian immigrant, and learns that many years earlier, Tania was in love with a Chinese medical student at Moscow University who was abruptly returned to China for having had a relationship with her. Kang’s own father once studied at that university but has never talked about it since he was forced to leave Moscow and then was branded a rightist during the Chinese Anti-Rightist Campaign. Since then her father has been dispatched to work and live in Kunming, a city far away from Beijing.

    Could the paths of her father and Tania have ever crossed? Curious about her father’s past, Kang decides to pay a visit to Moscow, accompanied by Brian, Tania’s nephew, a charming engineer who wants to explore his Russian Jewish roots. Spending time with Brian helps Kang to see how much her sister’s tragedy has shadowed her life. When Brian suddenly shows symptoms of schizophrenia, Kang must decide whether to throw her spinster’s hat away or end her relationship with Brian.

    Critique: An immediately absorbing read, Spinster Kang is an extraordinary novel by Zoe S. Roy and one that threads an inherently interesting and layered fictional account of immigrants in Canada with ‘real world’ issues of relevance to students of Asian & Asian American Studies and Women’s Studies — making it an unreservedly recommended addition to personal reading lists, as well as both community and academic library Contemporary Literary Fiction collections.

  4. Inanna Admin

    Spinster Kang by Zoë S. Roy
    reviewed by Reader Views – December 9, 2019
    https://www.readerviews.com/reviewroyspinsterkang

    Spinster Kang by Zoe S. Roy is the delightful tale of Kang, a young woman determined to make a life for herself outside of the limits set on women in China. As an unmarried woman in her early thirties, Kang is labeled with the stigma of being a “spinster,” but she isn’t convinced she needs a man in her life to be complete and refuses to be tied down by that narrow-minded classification. She migrates to Canada confident she will achieve the life she is looking for. Kang experiences some setbacks such as having to go back to school for her teaching certificate, working multiple jobs, and finding suitable living accommodations. She also carries with her a strong psychological fear and distrust of men based on an incident involving her sister during their childhood. Will Kang be able to keep her focus on her goals or will she be swept off her feet?

    Spinster Kang was such a fun reading experience. The story itself spans several genres from women’s fiction to historical fiction with some romance, mystery and adventure thrown in. It also feels a lot like a coming of age novel which brings a certain innocence to the overall tone of the story.

    Kang is an interesting character with a unique outlook on life. Even though she is in her early thirties, she is quite naïve in the ways of the world and experiences many defining moments of growth. Readers watch her touching journey as her character arcs and blossoms by the end of the story. One point of note – as a reader who is very character-driven, I have to say that while Kang exposes her genuine character, I did not get that intimate sense of connection with all of the characters.

    The element in which the author shines, however, is through her powerful descriptions. Canadian, Chinese and Russian cultures are all explored with great detail. The way Roy integrates lifestyle, customs, traditions, language, arts and food into her story provides readers with the complete cultural experience of each country. I often-times felt like I was on a guided tour and happily learned a lot about the similarities and differences of each society. Some of the food prepared and enjoyed in the novel made my mouth water and I love the care the author takes to establish this connection with the reader.

    Overall, I recommend Spinster Kang as a charming tale that fans of women’s issues, romance, coming of age, history and culture will appreciate!

  5. Inanna Admin

    Jiaozi and Pirozhki
    Spinster Kangby Zoë S. Roy
    reviewed by Eleanor Ty
    Canadian Literature – January 17, 2020
    https://canlit.ca/article/jiaozi-and-pirozhki/

    Spinster Kang is both a typical and untypical novel about an immigrant. Zoë S. Roy weaves a traditional story of a new immigrant to Toronto from China with the story of a Russian Jewish woman writing a memoir about incidents that happened to her some forty years before. The link between these two women is the intriguing kernel that the reader discovers by the end of the novel.

    Both women are struggling to expand their intellectual horizons, and, in the course of their studies, manage to also stumble upon love. Both are sexually innocent, and their fear of romantic entanglement—an interesting story in itself—is linked to the constraints imposed by their families, to traumatic experiences in the past, and to the strict cultural codes of the communities in which they live.

    The first part of the novel provides details of the thirty-something-year-old unmarried Kang settling down in Toronto, making new friends, getting used to Canadian food, walking around the city, and working in a coffee shop. At one point, cleaning tables in a Tim Hortons, Kang picks up a Toronto Star and reads the headline, “Outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.” The article talks about “Sui-Chu Kwan, a Chinese Canadian woman in her seventies, who had travelled to Hong Kong in February and died of SARS in Toronto.” Then Kang’s reflection: “now she understood why the woman on the subway train had moved away from her. It also explained why the customer line-ups in front of her had been shorter.” Not all incidents are so pointed; many simply record Kang’s day-to-day experiences as she works towards her teaching certificate.

    The pace picks up in the second part of the novel as Roy inserts a story within a story. In the process of narrating the Russian Jewish woman’s memoirs, Roy reveals the similarities between the repressive regimes in China and the Soviet Union. We learn about the Cultural Revolution under Mao as well as what it was like to be a Jewish intellectual in Moscow in the 1950s. In both cases, romance and dreams become secondary to duty to one’s country.

    This is an ambitious book, raising a number of issues that are important, though they are not all resolved. These questions include the effects of secondary trauma, the recognition of Hmong peoples in China and the diaspora, the acceptance of gay and lesbian people in immigrant communities, and ways to deal with mental illness. With all these matters, the novel is surprisingly light and encouraging. The protagonist Kang cheerfully plods on in spite of her fears and self-doubts. I particularly like the fact that whenever she is faced with an unfamiliar task, she goes to the library to read about how to do it. Kang is a well-read woman, often alluding to Chinese (Five Golden Flowers), Russian (War and Peace, Eugene Onegin, Fathers and Sons), and English (Wuthering Heights, The Matrix, A Christmas Carol) literature and film. Roy reaffirms our beliefs in the resourcefulness and resilience of immigrant women, and the positive effects of kind friends and welcoming communities.

  6. Inanna Admin

    Spinster Kang by Zoë S. Roy
    reviewed by Canadian Bookworm – March 14, 2020
    https://cdnbookworm.blogspot.com/2020/03/spinster-kang.html

    Kang is a Chinese immigrant woman living in Toronto. She works at Tim Horton’s while she waits for her classes to start. Kang came to Canada for a new start. When she was much younger, back in China, her older sister was raped, and Kang has found herself unable to trust men. She has resigned herself to not having a relationship, but the stigma of such a thing in China is big, and reflects on her family as well.

    Kang is planning to be a teacher. She finds a place to live as a housekeeper for an older woman Tania, and begins to make friends. As she adjusts to a new culture, learns about the people that she gets closer to, and about her own family’s past.

    This is a novel of personal discovery, of growth and of hope.

    I liked Kang and how she found a way even when barriers appeared in her life. I also liked how her story and Tania’s story intersected in interesting ways. Written by a Chinese immigrant to Canada, this book reads realistically and the plot pulls you along. I enjoyed it.

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