An intimate, everyday portrait of a river city in China, where Prager (Eve’s Tattoo, 1991, etc.) adopted her daughter and later returned with her to gather impressions and information before the place underwent the tides of change.
Prager, a novelist and humor writer, adopted Lulu from the city of Wuhu in southern China in late 1994. Lulu had been abandoned by her parents for reasons unknown, and Prager wanted to see the orphanage where Lulu spent her first seven months and learn whether there were any documents that might shed some light on her daughter’s early life. “I’m a modest person,” declares the author, “a humorist who’s scared of feeling,” and that is part of what gives her account such charm: She was forced to address profound feelings, and while she never shied away, she was also never glib, searching for words in a way that is sometimes rough but always sincere. While Prager describes the city as she and Lulu go about getting to know the place—they stayed for about six weeks, and the book is structured like an extended diary—she must also explain to five-year-old Lulu what exactly they are doing there—indeed, what it means to be adopted. This aspect of the story weaves itself around other experiences, visiting old tea houses and rock gardens and parks, struggling with bureaucrats and party members, coming across an outdoor park “where about twenty middle-aged couples are ballroom dancing to Chinese pop music emanating from the old Maoist PA speakers,” and even more PAs spout Paul Robeson’s “Old Man River” during a trip to the zoo. NATO bombed the Chinese embassy in Kosovo while they were in town, so their journey was truncated, although not before their snapshot of Wuhu, stolen out of time, was secure.
An elegant sense of place, an emotive story of great vulnerability, and a wonderful gift from mother to daughter.