East meets West in this occasionally playful yet profoundly moving graphic memoir.
Though she has drawn from her life in her popular children’s books (Foo, the Flying Frog of Washtub Pond, 2009, etc.), Yang has never offered the level of psychological reflection and familial revelation shown here. The subtitle, “An Ancestral Tale,” tells only half the story. The author narrates her own story, which encompasses the story of her father, who tells the story of his ancestors that his daughter then mediates through her artistry. The impetus for the project is the stalking of the thoroughly modern and Americanized author—then a recent college graduate—by a former boyfriend referred to throughout as “Rotten Egg.” To protect herself from what appears to be the real threat of physical harm, she retreats to the home of her far more traditional parents, who emigrated from China before her birth. She also makes a pilgrimage to her family’s homeland, where she attends the Academy of Traditional Chinese Painting and experiences the late 1980s political upheaval and repression firsthand. Returning to her family’s house in California, where her parents claim that she has wasted her education because of her bad boyfriend experiences, she coaxes stories from her father on his family, which are filled with tales of familial conflict and oppression that resonate with her own feelings of living in a prison imposed by circumstances. It’s a tale of Taoism and Buddhism, with the meditative state wondrously captured by the artist, and of the tension between the seeming passivity that spirituality appears to instill in some and the personal ambitions of others. The narrative seamlessly shifts between present and past, and between America and China, mixing the intimacy of a memoir with the artist’s visual allusions to such sources as King Lear and The Scream.
A transformational experience for author and reader alike.