I read this book some 15 years ago, and had no memory of reading it, which I found unusual, and was actually quite glad when I found I would have to reread it for a student's project. And how hard that was!
I know, I KNOW I should have liked this book more. I know it was - and is - important, and it IS exceedingly well-written, and it does present the issues of immigration, identity, language, family relations, changes in life very well, from what I can say from my (more than meagre, less than extensive) life experience.
My biggest problem with the book was - obviously - having to struggle with the narration. I admit this is my weakness; I could not handle Dangerous Laisons
until I saw a movie adaptation and finally could place the characters in the storyline. I honestly think I would have to make tables while reading to remember which of the younger women was responsible for what, and which of the mothers went through what hardships, precisely. Having no time to draft tables, I found myself caring little about the characters, at least most of the time.
There also is a certain - intended, probably - imbalance in the book, which both creates a tremendous impact on the reader and leaves a sense of imperfection. Whatever the daughters went or go through seems just bland compared to their mothers' past. Consider the following fragment - a story of a woman speaking of the abortion of her would-be firstborn upon learning her husband left her for another:
So I will tell Lena of my shame. That I was rich and pretty. I was too good for any one man. That I became abandoned goods. I will tell her that at eighteen the prettiness drained from my cheeks. That I thought of throwing myself in the lake like the other ladies of shame. And I will tell her of the baby I killed because I came to hate this man so much.
I took this baby from my womb before it could be born. This was not a bad thing to do in China back then, to kill a baby before it is born. But even then, I thought it was bad, because my body flowed with terrible revenge as the juices of this man's firstborn son poured from me.
When the nurses asked what they should do with the lifeless baby, I hurled a newspaper at them and said to wrap it like a fish and throw it in the lake. My daughter thinks I do not know what it means to not want a baby.
When my daughter looks at me, she sees a small old lady. That is because she sees only with her outside eyes. She has no chuming, no inside knowing of things. If she had chuming, she would see a tiger lady. And she would have careful fear.
And the style, the style is excellent. 'Magpies' chapter is perfect in every possible way, and made me want to own a copy of this book. The book ends in a perfect moment. Aww, really, I'm so conflicted. Can we say it's 3,5?