A novelist and essayist with a peripatetic life returns with a collection of recent and revealing pieces that range from the intensely personal to the analytical to the appreciative.
Xu Xi, who writes in English, has published a number of novels (That Man in Our Lives, 2016) and a memoir (Dear Hong Kong, 2017). Here, she collects 30 tight essays—many previously published—and arranges them, sometimes chronologically, in four categories. Among the most wrenching are those dealing with her mother’s long descent into Alzheimer’s and the author’s care for her (“the typhoon that was my mother’s Alzheimer’s changed my world, shifting all its known compass points”). The author is also candid about her two divorces, her current and long-lasting relationship with another man, and her brother’s death. She also writes affectingly about writing itself: why she writes in English (she says her Chinese is not all that good) and how she, in some ways, disappointed her mother, who did not eagerly approve of her daughter’s decision to become a writer. The author also chronicles a long process of decision about what she should do besides write—something that would earn her a steady, predictable income. She was in the corporate world for a number of years and then moved into academe, where she now works as the co-director of the MFA program in creative writing and literary translation at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. In one essay, the author discusses how she likes to “loaf,” but these essays reveal a writer who is intensely focused on her work. There are a few political pieces, as well, including one that features, woven throughout, letters to Hillary Clinton, whom the author supported during the 2016 election. (She zings the winner of that election a few times, too.)
Broad-ranging, introspective, and honest essays that reveal a fine writer’s experiences, mind, and heart.