Mutual fragility marks a cross-cultural love story that turns tragic in this debut novel from memoirist DeWoskin (Foreign Babes in Beijing, 2005).
The author takes her time exposing the truth about her two central characters: Aysha Silvermintz and Da Ge. Aysha appears at first an ordinary, if slightly hyper ESL teacher with a quick wit. When she finds herself attracted to Da Ge, a new Chinese student in her class, the impulse seems inappropriate. Then again, Aysha was not always—and may not now be—very stable. She has long carried a burden of guilt for the failure of her parents’ marriage; she displays a range of neurotic tics; and she only recently survived a nervous breakdown. Surly and secretive Da Ge slowly reveals that he too has a troubled past, which includes a mother who committed suicide, as well as a complicated attitude toward his country. He asks Aysha to marry him for the visa; she says yes because she loves him. Their union has moments of delight, but it is also marked by Da Ge’s absences and unpredictable behavior. The story is narrated 13 years later by a less manic, more socially engaged Aysha. She is now living in Beijing with her bilingual daughter Julia Too. Da Ge is dead. The circumstances surrounding his demise are teased out at some length, and the novel’s resolution verges on the excessively sweet.
Witty, mournful and a shade sentimental, but in the main persuasively told.