Chris realized that he had never, ever understood
Geling Yan, a widely respected young Chinese author, immigrated to the United States after the Tienanmen Square massacre. She is best known here for the movie Xiu Xiu : The Sent Down Girl, the script for which she cowrote with director and childhood friend Joan Chen, from Yan's own short story. In this new novel, set in the 1870s, she has borrowed a figure from history, Fusang, the most famous prostitute in San Francisco, and has imagined an unusual lover for her, a 12 year old white boy named Chris.
Approaching the issue of anti-Chinese racism through these two characters, she tells a tale of slavery, rape and murder, and, ostensibly, love. I say ostensibly because Chris and Fusang remain completely opaque throughout the novel; we can never comprehend their motivations or thought processes. One of the things that helps to make them so mysterious is that the novel is narrated by a female descendant of Fusang, who has gathered 160 texts about the Chinese experience in San Francisco, in an effort to understand her enigmatic ancestor's life.
I may well be wide of the mark here, but it seems like Yan's point may be that Fusang and Chris are equally incomprehensible to each other, as they are to us. In fact, though the novel has the structure of an epic love story, the message would seem to be that there is something fundamentally illusory in such interracial love affairs. At one point she says of Chris :
He has yet to realize that the infatuation one feels
for what one cannot understand is just as violent
This linkage of racist hatred with cross-cultural romance, though awfully harsh, has more than a grain of truth to it. Equally stern is her later judgment of Chris, when he wants Fusang to marry him :
It is as if being with you, Fusang, is not a matter
of anything so shallow as love or happiness, but
It's hard to imagine a more stinging indictment of the kind of racial understanding which, though it masquerades as selflessness and acceptance of others, is really based as much on objectification of those "others" as is racism.
In what I found the most powerful passage of the book, which after all is an examination of racism and violence directed against Chinese-Americans, Yan, in discussing the causes of a riot, reveals just how universal and non-specific is the human hatred which fuels such incidents, and even links it to the Cultural Revolution in China :
Hatred is amazing. It makes people self-righteous;
it drives them with a sense of mission. I'm not
When I was a child I saw those sexual impulses they
called the cultural revolution and those
This is a very dark--though I would argue realistic--vision of human nature.
This darkness, combined with various scenes of violence, the emotional distance of the central characters, the sparseness of the author's prose, make this a book that many people will not enjoy. Quite honestly, I wasn't sure if I liked it until I thought about it for quite awhile. But ultimately, despite the somewhat harrowing nature of the story, the brutal honesty of Yan's ideas won me over. And the more I've thought about it, the more I appreciate it.
See also:Asian Literature
-EXCERPT : Chapter One of Daughter of Lost Happiness
-BOOK SITE : The Lost Daughter of Happiness : A Novel By Geling Yan (Hyperion Books)
-INTERVIEW : Joan Chen & Geling Yan : Making Xiu Xiu (Jeffrey M. Anderson, Combustible Celluloid)
-PROFILE : Columbia grad Yan Geling wins awards, acclaim for fiction (Jotham Sederstrom, Columbia Chronicle)
-REVIEW : of The Lost Daughter of Happiness by Geling Yan (Philip Gambone, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW : of Lost Daughter of Happiness (CAROLYN SEE, The Washington Post)
-REVIEW : of The Lost Daughter of Happiness by Geling Yan (Ruth Rosen, SF Chronicle)
-REVIEW : The Lost Daughter of Happiness by Geling Yan (Book Browse)
-REVIEW : of THE LOST DAUGHTER OF HAPPINESS by Geling Yan (YVONNE CRITTENDEN, Toronto Sun)
-REVIEW : of White Snake and Other Stories by Geling Yan (James Bryant MacTavish , City Pages)
-REVIEW : of White Snake (Nadine Kam, Honolulu Star-Bulletin)
-REVIEW : of White Snake : From China with Love : Erotic suffering and insatiable desire abound in short stories from writer Geling Yan (Gail Wronsky, New Times Los Angeles)
-REVIEW : of White Snake (Francis Phillips, Ruminator)
Copyright 1998-2015 Orrin Judd