|Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2015-01-18 03:09Z by Steven|
Fans of best-selling author Lisa See will not be surprised by her diverse background, the source of the unique perspective readers inevitably find in each of her novels.
Born in Paris but raised and residing in Los Angeles for most of her life, she is part Chinese. Her great-great-grandfather came to the United States to work on the building of the transcontinental railroad, and her great-grandfather was the “godfather” or “patriarch” of Los Angeles’ Chinatown. About 400 members of her large Chinese American family currently live in the Los Angeles area.
Despite her appearance—red-haired and freckled—Lisa See has always been strongly influenced by her Chinese identity. In a recent interview, the author explained, “I don’t look at all Chinese, but I grew up in a very large Chinese-American family. My Chinese background influences everything in my life. It’s in how I raise my children, in what I eat, in how I remember the people in my family who’ve died. It’s in what I plant in my garden and how I decorate my house. I have a western doctor, but my main doctor is from China and practices traditional Chinese medicine.” Of course, her Chinese heritage is also an integral part of her writing.
See does not set out to educate her readers about Chinese culture; instead, she views her books as a reflection of her own personal journey, a journey in which her culture has played a significant role. “All writers are told to write what they know, and this is what I know. In many ways I straddle two cultures. I try to bring what I know from both cultures into my work. I have no way of knowing if this is true or not, but perhaps the American side of me is able to open a window into China and things Chinese for non-Chinese, while the Chinese side of me makes sure that what I’m writing is true to the Chinese culture without making it seem too ‘exotic’ or ‘foreign.’ In other words, what I really want people to get from my books is that all people on the planet share common life experiences—falling in love, getting married, having children, dying—and share common emotions—love, hate, greed, jealousy. These are the universals; the differences are in the particulars of customs and culture.”
Through these reflections about her writing, Lisa See captures the essence of her latest novel, China Dolls. Within the narrative, the author provides readers with a glimpse into the history of both her own Chinese American heritage as well as the Japanese American experience during World War II. The novel revolves around three Asian American women who meet at an audition at The Forbidden City, a nightclub and cabaret in San Francisco that featured Asian performers from the late 1930s to the 1950s. The three women—Grace Lee, Helen Fong, and Ruby Tom—share the role of narrators, creating a kind of symmetry within the novel which is itself divided into three sections—the Sun, the Moon, and the Truth…
Read the entire review here.