When this was distributed as the next month’s read for my CAE bookgroup (a.k.a. “The Ladies Who Say Oooooh”) my heart sank. “I’ve read this”, I thought. But as I read further into it, I realised that it was not a clone of Amy Tan 3-female-generation saga, as I expected it to be. I had not, in fact, read it and now that I’ve finished I wish I hadn’t anyway.
This is a grubby, self-serving, vindictive book. The author has left her (now deceased) parents’ names unaltered, along with that of her husband. She did, however, change the names of her siblings. I think that the issue of changing or not changing names in an autobiography really highlights the sore spots and anxieties in an author’s telling of their story.
The book is one long howl of wounded dignity and pain. The author’s mother died after giving birth to her, and her father remarried a young, beautiful French-Chinese woman that the family called ‘Niang’, an alternative form of “mother”. The besotted father is putty in her hands, and betrays his allegiances to the children of his first wife- although admittedly, the relationship between a widowed father and the child whose birth precipitated the mother’s death must always be a fraught one.
This is a toxic family. Niang certainly does appear a cold, manipulating, scheming woman who sows jealousy and dissesion amongst her children and their half-siblings. They are all- parents and children- dominated by the love of money, ruthless in their determination to get ahead; remorseless in their own quest for parental approval. The author, as narrator, portrays herself always as the innocent victim of others’ perfidy- a rather self-serving and perhaps not always accurate assessment. There is no loyalty to family, and certainly no loyalty to country among the immediate family- they collect and discard nationalities at will in their thrust to get ahead.
Why did she write this book? One can only think that it is her revenge, served cold and in print. And wait- there’s more! Not only did she write this book, but she rehashed her revenge in her second book Chinese Cinderella which from its description, sounds like the same book fictionalized.
I feel complicit in her vindictiveness by even having read this book.