A writer offers autobiographical vignettes, short stories, and reflections on Chinese culture and history.
In this book, Yu (Two Swordmasters, 2018, etc.) reveals that her “official and reported” birth date in north China is April 1, 1939. A self-described “unwanted girl child,” she was born after the Nanjing Massacre, when Japanese troops murdered an estimated 3 million Chinese people in a matter of weeks. Her father had been captured by the Japanese to work as an interpreter while her busy mother kept eight children safe from the Japanese army. In 1949, Yu’s family escaped from Communist China to Taiwan. Many years later, the author wrote columns for an American newspaper, the Pueblo Chieftain, and dreamed of publishing a book about China. After battling cancer in 2006, she was determined to realize her dream and pass down stories to her grandchildren. The end result is this heartfelt compilation of childhood memories and tales about Chinese culture and history. Divided into two parts, the book’s first section presents 16 easy-reading selections: autobiographical pieces, short stories, and essays. Sometimes the volume feels like an informative classroom lecture; for example, in the essay “Three Chinese Poems,” Yu briefly discusses classical Chinese poetry. Other works are much more personal. Once, on a terrible train ride, Yu’s mother hid from Japanese soldiers by disguising herself as a man and her daughters as boys. The author also paints a memorable portrait of the outmoded custom of foot binding. In “My Mother’s Big Feet,” Yu’s mother—whose forward-thinking father wouldn’t allow her feet to be bound—was ridiculed her entire life for having “big” (smaller than size 5) feet. And the tender reflections in “A snowy night in Canada” chronicle the author’s struggles to raise her daughters alone. The second section presents 41 newspaper articles with details that should leave a lasting impression on readers of all ages. For example, “The Archer and the Moon Goddess” explains why ceramic rabbits are popular gifts for children during the moon festival. While they are not chronological, these succinct works are easy to browse, and Yu’s lively prose brings her subjects to life.
Quick, colorful glances at a rich culture.