As Chinese New Year approached, I began to reflect on the books I read this past year. I had immersed myself in Chinese culture and language, which I've been interested in for most of my life. So I thought I'd share three of the many books I read. Each book is top-notch, beautifully written, evocative, and picturesque. Each is a memoir that depicts a woman triumphant, at times despite circumstances of misogyny so blatant and palpable as to be shocking. I encourage readers of this blog to sample one or two of these books, like salty, sweet, or savory dumplings in this, the Year of the Rooster. Nian nian you yü!
1. Good Chinese Wife by Susan Blumberg-Kason
A true love story set in China, Good Chinese Wife depicts the author as an American graduate student at Hong Kong University who meets and falls in love with her Chinese classmate. Curious about Chinese dating rituals, I found the book compelling, well-written, and completely absorbing as it details the rites of love, courtship and marriage in China as experienced by the author. At one point, Cai, Ms. Blumberg-Kason's future husband, explains that Chinese couples only date if they intend to marry. Once Cai and young Susan are married, however, their cultural differences prove insurmountable. Although I knew the outcome, I wished for a happier ending.
2. Leaving Mother Lake by Namu Erche Yang and Christine Matthieu
This is a beautiful and poignant memoir (co-authored with Christine Matthieu, an anthropologist). I'd never heard of the Moso people and their matrilineal culture--with unusual customs and disbelief
in marriage. So I thought this was a book I could not miss out on. It depicts the author's childhood and adolescence in a primitive environment that favors women. Ms. Yang reveals the fascinating
details of her youth, steeped in the beauty of the Himalayan mountains and Lugo Lake, her original homeland at the China-Tibet border. The book culminates in her running away from love (though I wonder what happened to Geko, the young man she rejected) and her village, ultimately to Beijing. It is beautiful, eloquent, and rare.
3. Journey Across The Four Seas: A Chinese Woman's Search for Home by Veronica Li
As a young girl, Flora Li asked her mother when she was going to school. Her mother said, "You're a girl. Girls don't go to school." That might have sealed her fate, except that she was determined to better herself and her circumstances. A memoir of Flora Li's life as told to her youngest daughter, Veronica Li, Journey Across The Four Seas depicts Flora as she struggles to get an education and attend college in China. Eventually, she gets accepted into a college program, graduates and works at various companies with tenacity and diligence. What I liked most was that she triumphed over many personal obstacles--from fending off her husband's girlfriend to raising her five children. Flora Li is a woman of valor. In addition, the book captures the tone and events of the turbulent times: the Japanese invasion of Nanking, British colonialism, World War II, with important historical persons such as Chiang Kai-shek. I loved this memoir!
--Yolanda A. Reid