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Fiction Literary

Beauty Plus Pity

by (author) Kevin Chong

Arsenal Pulp Press
Initial publish date
Aug 2011
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2011
    List Price

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Beauty plus pity--that is the closest we can get to a definition of art." -Vladimir Nabokov

In this tragicomic modern immigrant's tale, Malcolm Kwan is a slacker twentysomething Asian-Canadian living in Vancouver who is about to embark on a modelling career when his life is suddenly derailed by two near-simultaneous events: the death of his filmmaker father, and the betrayal of his fiancee who has left him. Soon he meets Hadley, the half-sister he never knew existed--the result of his father's extramarital affair--and as their tentative relationship grows, Malcolm is forced to confront his past relationships with women, including his own mother, an art teacher working through her grief as well as her resentment at her son befriending her husband's daughter.

Written with a winsome yet plaintive eye, Beauty Plus Pity is about a young man who's forced to reckon with the past as he works through his lifelong ambivalence toward his hyphenated cultural identity, and between two parents holding intolerable secrets.

About the author


Kevin Chong was born in Hong Kong and raised in Vancouver.He’s the author of four other books, including the racetrack memoirMy Year of the Racehorse, which was cited as a book of the year and in the National Post. As a journalist, his work hasappeared in a range of publications, including Taddle Creek, Chatelaine,Macleans, Maisonneuve, Vancouver Magazine, and The Walrus. Heteaches creative writing at the University of British Columbia and livesin Vancouver with his partner, Holly, and her son, Joe.

Kevin Chong's profile page

Editorial Reviews

A well-written portrait of the (maybe) artist as a young man.
-Hyphen magazine


Funny and devastating. Chong is a melange of Bukowski and Woody Allen.
-Rawi Hage, author of De Niro's Game and Cockroach

Rawi Hage

Chong's nuanced structure keeps emotions under tight control, to be revealed at the author's discretion and not a moment sooner. This level of authorial control is especially poignant when considered alongside the Vladimir Nabokov epigraph. Chong knows he must kill his beauty to take Malcolm to the next stage of his life, to give him something to feel, something to latch onto that is concrete and tangible, beyond his tepid ambitions and failed relationships-to show him that art is a social production, and is guided by many. When pain and strife are ignored, art-true beauty-ceases to exist.


A little beauty of a novel: funny, wise, and subtly heartbreaking ... [Chong's] understanding of humanity's foibles is wonderful, and Malcolm's trek to maturity is one I won't soon forget.
-Winnipeg Review

Winnipeg Review

The story is whip smart, and as Malcolm comes to understand his parents' mistakes and the reality of their lives, he grows to understand who he wants to become, and how he wants to love and connect with the people in his life. It's a story most people will relate to on some level, and one told with humour and insight.
-The Globe and Mail

The Globe and Mail

This unassuming, well-written novel is quiet in every way--subtly entertaining, poignant, and funny.
-Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly

A media-saturated environment ... leavened with a deadpan facetiousness.
-Philip Marchand, National Post

National Post

With this second novel, Chong takes a prominent place among the cadre of West Coast writers, including Douglas Coupland, Zsuzsi Gartner, and Timothy Taylor, who are carving out a place within Canadian literature for writing that tries not to wear its heart on its sleeve, maintains an ironic detachment from deep passion, and explores how living in a world of shiny high-tech surfaces affects us all.
-Prairie Fire Review of Books

Prairie Fire

A novel of heartbreak and humour, Beauty Plus Pity is written with an energy and humanity few novels possess. Kevin Chong is an extraordinary writer who is at the top of his game.
-Steven Galloway, author of The Cellist of Sarajevo

Steven Galloway

Chong has come up with one of the funniest characters you'll come across.
-Uptown (Winnipeg)


An entertaining story ... Beneath Beauty Plus Pity's deadpan surface is a memorial to life's transitory and cyclical nature, and to love both lost and found.
-Georgia Straight

Georgia Straight

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