A debut author examines the unusual union with her husband.
After a divorce and little success with personal ads, 46-year-old Graf began to feel an overwhelming loneliness. When her Chinese neighbor suggested that she meet her similarly lonely brother, Graf set off to China. Though she describes herself as “an anxious person and not eager to trust,” the author married Zhong-hua a few weeks after meeting him. “We shared the implicit trust of mountain climbers,” she writes, “based solely on the certainty that the other will not purposely let you fall.” This stoic pragmatism helped Graf endure an 18-month waiting period before her husband could move to America, another 18 months before his adolescent daughter could join them, and, finally, Zhong-hua's bout with cancer. The culture shock each has endured—expressed in Graf’s vivid though gnarled prose—is mind-boggling. When her husband bumped into her one day, the author was surprised that he didn’t offer an apology or even an “excuse me.” She soon learned, however, that apologies of any kind would not be forthcoming because in China there is no distinction between oneself and one’s mate. As for Zhong-hua, the surgery he underwent for his cancer was not only strange and foreign but antithetical to the teachings of his beloved Tai Chi and Qigong. The lengthy transcriptions of the couple’s dialogue often slows the narrative pace, and though Graf offers occasionally insightful commentary on the danger of cultural assumptions, the many unanswered questions make for a frustrating read.
A middling memoir of romantic and spiritual exploration.