Lynette facilitiates the book discussion group at the Helmerich Library. At each meeting they read books on a particular topic or books by the same author and share their opinions. What follows is a recap of their March meeting.
Lisa See''s historical novels about 19th century (SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN ) and 17th century (PEONY IN LOVE ) Chinese women are exotic, fascinating, and so well researched that they open a door into a world not only removed from 21st century Tulsa, but nearly impossible to understand. Yet See''s characters ultimately draw on themes world wide and universally true --the longing to be loved, to have a friend who puts you first, to be able to communicate at a heart level, and the special relationships and deep bonds between women who live largely segregated lives. In this way some of the See themes reminded us of the Khaled Hosseini books about Afghan women and culture (A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS , THE KITE RUNNER ). Opinion at our March meeting was unanimous, SNOW FLOWER is an excellent novel and great read. Many felt that PEONY was less successful. The author herself describes it as "a ghost story within a ghost story." Her most recent novel, SHANGHAI GIRLS jumps in time to the two worlds of 1930''s China and San Francisco, women with arranged marriages, secrets and guilt complexes, and adjustment to life in California as immigrant outsiders. Many of our readers enjoyed this book.
Known for her detailed research, Lisa See began her writing career with a memoir about her Chinese side of the family, ON GOLD MOUNTAIN . Several who read it said It was very interesting, but a bit long and too detailed. The world she so intricately describes, is one of immigrant families with multiple wives and many children (some back home in China), their social customs, a challenging language and its calligraphy, and the hard work and dedication required to be successful in an adopted country. Someone mentioned in summary that these books expose significant gaps in our ethnocentric study of history. Who remembers learning about the Chinese Exclusion Acts that were strictly enforced in post-Gold Rush America? I don''t think I ever did.
Ms. See''s earliest novels (FLOWER NET , THE INTERIOR , and DRAGON BONES ) are mysteries set in 20th century China, featuring the cross cultural team of Inspector Liu Hulan and U.S. Attorney David Stark. Most of our readers enjoyed the intricate plots and interesting characters.
We also discussed the non-fiction book FACTORY GIRLS by Leslie T. Chang, which describes the young women from poor rural families, with no marriage prospects, who were sent to city factories in the days of a rapidly industrializing China between 1960 and 1990. They worked in terrible conditions, six to seven days a week for little pay. In many ways they were, and are, the backbone of China''s "economic miracle." While interesting, it was a bit repetitious. Great non-fiction is hard to write. The question was raised about the definition of "Red Princess." Here is what I found: "One of the privileged children of chairman Mao''s trusted aides." Sounds like many other cultural groups'' very privileged daughters!
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Together, all of these books provide a vivid picture of what it''s like to be a woman in China or a Chinese immigrant in America.