Monday, 31 October 2011

The Lost Daughter of Happiness - Geling Yan

The Lost Daughter of Happiness
 I find that I enjoy books that mingle a bit of fact with the fiction....and this is one such.  The author, Geling Yan, left her home country of China following the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1985 and settled in California.  The translator, Cathy Silber who translated the book into English, has done an excellent job, for I knew from early on this was a book that was told from another point of view by someone who speaks in another way altogether.  The book itself has no chapters, and this didn't put me off me one bit - though normally it would; although it does have gaps so that you can make a stop here and there!  It is told from two viewpoints - the narrator's voice, a Chinese American voice who is telling the "lost daughter" how she found her 200 years later whilst researching Chinese immigrants into America; and in the third person the story of Fusang, a girl stolen from her home village in China and transported for sale into prostitution.  If you thought that maybe this was an uncommon occurance, you'd be wrong.  Thousand of girls arrived in America this way, they were young and usually dead in their 20s.  Of course, hundreds of thousands of poor chinese men also flocked to America for a better life (it was they who did the donkey work on the great rail system that opened up the States then).  The white men in general hated them with a vengance; they worked for much lower pay, and because they spoke another language they could not be understood.  White men flocked to the dockside brothels on the Pacific coast however, for the novelty of sex with these strange looking prostitutes and their gentle ways (perhaps read inscrutable for gentle here), and the chinese referred to the whites who visited the chinatowns for women, opium, alchohol as "white devils".
Into this life comes Fusang, with a sweet smile, bound feet, and when awakened, a love of sex whoever pays for it.  But she is haunted for many years by a boy.  A white boy, Chris.  She first sees him when he is twelve, looking in through her window whilst she services a customer whilst holding the boy's gaze.  It is his awakening moment, and he is besotted.  What happens to him, and what happens to her - more separately than together, forms the basis of this haunting little novel.  And at the end, you find yourself asking:  Oriental/Caucasian - will we ever truly understand them and they us?