The characters in Faces Tell All comprise an ethnically-diverse mosaic which reflects their distinctive faces, cultures and traditions.
The following ethnicities are on display: Chinese, Chinese-American, American-born of various ethnicities (Russian-Jewish, Irish, Italian, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Spanish, Korean, African-American, English-Dutch), but also foreign-born Haitian-Norwegian and Egyptian (Coptic).
These different peoples are not meant to be caricatures or contrived for the sake of diversity, but are modeled after actual individuals the author has known who represent commonly-encountered and typically-complex human personalities, ways of thinking and acting. Their histories and family backgrounds are pertinent because in the story they affect life choices such as marital status, jobs and interests.
So we see the single millennials who plan a face-reading app for the dating crowd are influenced by their particular upbringing and social group in that they exhibit characteristics of that group but may be intrigued by members of another culture and group. Thus Harold, the protagonist, although typically American (within a Russian-Jewish ethnic subset), because of his interest in face reading and his desire to break away from what he perceives to be his parents’ confining influence, is attracted to an Irish-Catholic American woman with a “perfect nose”. She, Trish, has similarly rebelled, previously, from what she considered a rigid and intolerant family structure—and could now repeat that with Harold.
The other prominent young couple in the story, Carlos (Cuban-American) and Jennifer (Italian-American) bond early on due to their shared history as “recovering Roman Catholics” from “families that own you”; but also may strike independent paths.
These four unmarrieds, immersed in a hectic dating scene, and employed in fields involving communications (medical editor, advertising writer) and glamour (fashion consultants), are well-suited and motivated to plan a scientific face reading app that helps lonely hearts choose the right mate and the right look. They envision an interactive app in which what one’s own face and body language conveys is equally important to the process of finding a compatible match.
All four discuss and act out the proposition that in seeking a mate, people often prefer their own kind: in ethnicity, religion, looks and world-view, but are sometimes attracted to apparent opposites, as long as they as personally compatible. An outstanding example of this is found in the Egyptian character, Hoda, who as a Coptic Christian is married to a Messianic Jew—both believing in Jesus—albeit in America, where such religious toleration is more common than in other less-free places.
In Faces Tell All, the ethnic diversity of America is demonstrated, where minority communities, such as Chinese-Americans, are encouraged to publicly display their traditions in New Years and other celebrations. Indeed, the setting for much of the novel is New York City, one of the most ethnically-diverse cities in the world, which hosts celebrations and parades honoring, among others, Greek, Irish, German, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Jewish/Israeli and various Caribbean and Asian communities.
In fact, an important scene in the book takes place during a New York Chinese New Year’s parade, and involves also a well-known Chinatown museum, fictionalized as the Chinese American Museum (CAM); the museum served as an inspiration and source for themes and backstory as well as pertinent cultural and political history presented in Faces Tell All. Much more about Chinese culture is explored in the book and will follow below.
But first, in another example, early in the story, the reader is introduced to what is, admittedly, a commercialized stereotype of African culture: the Serengeti Bar and Grill. It features a forty-foot photorealistic mural of the Serengeti Plain, accompanied by “authentic” visual and audio accouterments, such as lion roars and drum sounds. Styles of such establishments, imagined here, or existing as actual restaurants or theme/amusement or animal parks, are clearly meant to entertain rather than necessarily educate the public.
Faces Tell All offers the reader many glimpses into Chinese culture.
The aforementioned New York’s annual Chinese New Years’s Parade provides a good sampling: martial arts, fortune telling, Dragon Dancing and fireworks. The major characters have met at the local Chinese-American museum on Parade day. Through their eyes, as they observe the museum displays, the reader encounters major premises of the book: the history of anti-Chinese discrimination and the Chinese-American community’s contributions to American society, including through their culture and traditions. Exhibited, in addition, are ancient traditions such as Chinese puzzles—showcasing Chinese ingenuity and intelligence as well as workmanship—and also Chinese Medicine Face Reading, a kind of “fortune telling” which underlays the main premise of Faces Tell All.
Faces Tell All highlights the role of masks and archetypes in Chinese opera and art which have counterparts in the mythology of the West—both traditions confirming that facial imagery is deeply imbedded in the human psyche. Elements of I Ching (The Book of Changes) and Tao (Yin Yang) are also introduced into the story line of the book, reflecting the holistic, unitary view of Chinese philosophy that fortune is changeable and conditional, that beauty and right conduct are sometimes composed of seemingly opposite or contradictory traits—hard and soft—as compared with dualistic, “black or white” thinking typical of the West. Thus, in Chinese reasoning, one finds more subtle, complex or approximate “answers” (showing trends and tendencies), rather than explicit, exact ones.
The character of Ma, the Chinese-American computer guru is a good example of a blend of personality traits (reflected also in his facial expressions). While suspected of being a double agent, his ultimate role is not completely clear until the end of the story. Ma’s wearing of “bad” ties and cowboy boots and declaring his love of Western BarBQ while spouting Confucian sayings leaves his guests wondering whether such behavior reflects his eccentricity as a creative Hollywood cinematographer or are part of a pattern of deception. The reader is invited to solve this Chinese “puzzle”.
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