The Winged Seed: A Remembrance (1995)
The Hungry Mind Review's 100 Best 20th Century Books
Lurking within this memoir is a seemingly interesting story about Lee's father--a Christian preacher, once Mao's physician, he fled with his family to Indonesia, where Li-Young was born, but was imprisoned there by Sukarno. He managed to escape and the family eventually ended up in Pennsylvania where he ministered to an all-white congregation. A combination of strict religious beliefs and traditional Chinese views on filial duty, apparently made for a Father who kept great emotional distance from his children and became something of a Godlike figure himself--all powerful but unknowable. That's what I gather anyway; but the story is told in such obfuscating prose that it's almost impossible to know for sure.
Here's a sample paragraph:
And then he set out on an unnumbered wave and, being
right-handed, pulled the boat opposite the
Granted, some context would help a little, but that series of words simply does not make sense. At first I was willing to cut Lee some slack, for one thing he's a poet, so you don't really expect straightforward narrative, and then English isn't his native language; I guarantee I would make less sense than that if I tried writing in Chinese. But ultimately authors have some minimal responsibility to communicate their ideas and, unless his ideas are actually this confused, he fails to do that here.
Then I started looking for links to add to this review and I found an interview where he was asked about the writing style he used for the book:
IB: Was it something that evolved then?
LYL: Yeah, it was my fascination with the possibility
of writing an extended prose poem without
IB: So, you did not revise The Winged Seed at all?
LYL: No. I'm very embarrassed about some of it because
it seems too raw, too naked at places. And
IB: Why did you make that decision? Was it just the experimentation, or...?
LYL: The longer I wrote, the stronger my editorial
voice became. So sometimes even before I
IB: Do you feel that you were successful in getting rid of that editorial voice?
LYL: No, because even as it reads, when I'm reading
Winged Seed, I keep thinking: No, I
Okay, for future reference, here are three things I don't want when I pick up a book: I don't want an author who decides not to listen to that nagging "editorial voice"; I don't want a story that purposefully includes writing with a "drifting quality"; and I don't want reviewers telling me that the writing is "lyrical."
-INTERVIEW: NAKED IN THE LANGUAGE An Interview with Li-Young Lee (Kara Revel, Independence Boulevard)
-MOONRABBIT BLUES Asian American Literature and Featured Writers Reading Room: Li-Young Lee
-BIO: & Links & Study Questons (WW Norton)
-BRIEF BIO: (Bedford St. Martins)
-AUDIO: Persimmons by Li-Young Lee, read by the author (WW Norton)
-POEMS: poetry of Li-Young Lee
-ARTICLE: Author tells life of travel in new book (Branden Pfefferkorn)
-AWARD: Schwartz Poetry Award (NY Times)
-ESSAY: Deciphering Victorian Underwear, And Other Seminars (Anne Matthews, NY Times)
-REVIEW: of THE CITY IN WHICH I LOVE YOU By Li-Young Lee (Carol Muske, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of ROSE By Li-Young Lee (Matthew Flamm, NY Times Book Review)
-BOOK LIST: Lyrical: The author of "White Oleander" picks four novels and one memoir that read like poetry. (Janet Fitch, Salon)
-BOOK LIST: Booklist Editors' Choice '95 Adult Nonfiction (ALA Booklist)
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