My Rating: 5 stars
Thank you Scribner for granting me an Advanced Readers Edition of this book in exchange for an honest review, I am very honored.
It’s always so difficult to read books by Lisa See. It provokes not only my thoughts but my emotions too. Whether she takes us back to China in the 19th century (See: Snow Flower and The Secret Fan –loved that one and likely the first Historical Fiction I read and the reason I fell in love with this genre), or the present years, Lisa See pulls us inside this wormhole and takes us into an adventure. I’ve never felt more in reality than when I read her books.
I always take my time with her; I make sure to digest everything properly, taking the time to stop every now and then whenever certain passages or chapters have really stirred me up. I take time to reflect and think about how my life is somewhat like her characters in every book I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Honestly that’s why it’s so difficult to read her books, I’m too emotionally attached because she perfectly depicts Asian culture, tradition and life overall.
The book was phenomenal as always. Very well-researched, but you wouldn’t even notice it. It wasn’t overly exaggerated and in a sense, you just know that the author is speaking from the heart and not the mind. She doesn’t only know, she understands; and I love her for it. I loved learning about tea and pu’er. This book really got me researching what tea cakes look like and I really really want to taste pu’er, (trust that I will be looking for it EVERYWHERE). Also, I’ll guiltily admit that I’ve drank more tea than I usually do ever since I started reading this book. Cheers to tea and its million health benefits!
What I love about this book is that it doesn’t hate on tradition. Sure, it portrays the ignorance and mistaken beliefs tied with tradition, but even then, the author manages to still preserve the love for tradition even when there is a more logical reasoning beside it. Asian culture is very complex, it has so many expectations and stereotypes that often dictate and obligate people to comply with it. We struggle with change and often in Asian societies today, we are torn between advancing and adapting to the modern world without the expense of losing our traditions or insisting on living with old habits and superstitions. We struggle for balance between the two worlds, because we were taught never to forget the values that were handed from generation to generation; at the same time we are aware that changes are as essential to life as breathing.
I will guiltily admit that like any other Asian, I went to cram schools, had tutors, and I also play an instrument. I honestly don’t know why this is so, and the book just made me stop and question my entire being. Why, why, why!? Why are Asians so obsessed with school and being an overachiever? ASIAN STEREOTYPE. Welcome to our world full of pressure and expectation that we simply don’t know who we are without any of it. Of course it could be just me but the characters in this book would surely agree.
It’s sad, really; on so many levels. Growing up in this environment, whether you’re an Asian living in the West or living right in homeland, it’s as difficult as it will ever be. It’s suffocating just like smog that rests right in our lungs. And no matter how hard we try to expel it, we will always seek our parents’ approval. Even as grown-ups, the expectations from our family won’t cease. It’s an endless cycle. I was particularly affected by the exchange between the Chinese adoptees. I was literally cringing, especially the part where Haley’s adopted mom said, “That could be you one day” while they were listening to Sarah Chang who I later know of as a violin prodigy. I understand why Haley gave up the violin after that.
Read this book if you want to understand what we endure, how we do it, and more importantly why. In any circumstance, we could just say no and take control of our lives. We could be ourselves. But to be accepted is to be loved; we were raised to always choose family over anything else. There’s even superstition that if you made your mother cry, you wouldn’t grow to be successful and would one day crawl back into their arms and you can only hope they take you back.
I must admit I cried, really. It’s harsh, it’s painful and it makes you wonder if you’re loved or just this object of love. Most of the time, I just feel like this figurine being polished every now and then for others to see and adore. Haley and the rest will agree. But you know, it’s not all bad. I mean yeah, we miss out on all the fun and excitement but we walk steady paths. We don’t stray too far from discipline and values that will ultimately lead to our success. Happiness, well that will come later. This is what it means to be Asian. And this is why Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the U.S.
“Tall trees catch much wind.”
And yet we stand rigid and strong.
The ending, I couldn’t have wished for anything better. It definitely sealed the deal. Another Asian belief is that there is no such thing as coincidence. Everything follows its own path and you’ll find yourself further, and then nearer to where it all began.