A Chinese journalist now living in the US tries to make sense of his life after a tragedy.
Su Xiaokang fled China soon after the 1989 Tianenmen Square massacre. His wife and son remained behind but after two years were permitted to join him. It seemed their struggles were over; then an auto accident left his wife paralyzed and unable to speak. This memoir of her long, agonizing recovery, a process still far from complete, is both an elegy to the author’s beloved wife and an effort to understand himself. Despite a decade in the US, Su has shed little of his native culture. He lives and socializes largely in the Chinese exile community, speaking little English. As a result, his account mixes universal elements with Chinese cultural attitudes that may seem strange to American readers. Westerners tend to feel that catastrophes just happen, but even sophisticated Chinese see life as teeming with unseen influences, omens, luck, and subtle portents. The author searches his past at great length for hints that he stupidly ignored. He finds plenty, including the warning of a teashop owner with psychic abilities who told Su he’d have an auto accident at 45. He finds deep significance in his wife’s past unhappiness with his friends, his political activities, and especially her fears of riding in cars. He recounts dreams. She regains speech and some movement but remains wheelchair-bound. From prayer and faith healers to a host of Asian techniques from acupuncture to qigong to meditation, they search desperately for a cure. Ultimately, both realize they can never return to life as it was before the accident, but much good remains to be experienced.
American readers might prefer more details about the couple’s life in China and America, but this is not the author’s purpose. He has written not so much an autobiography as a painful rumination on fate.