I grabbed this book when I read the blurb that said the heroine is "Part Chinese, part American, with red hair and only a vague oriental cast to her green eyes, Maibelle Chung grew up on Mott Street as an outsider". I spent about fifteen years living as an outsider with red hair (or sometimes blonde or green) and green eyes in Toronto's Chinatown, so I felt an immediate kinship with the theme. It also was a chance to read about New York's Chinatown at the unusual moment that I was living in New York and perhaps add some depth to my impressions there. (It did - made me VERY jumpy afterwards.)
I was not disappointed. Aimee E. Liu fills her book with geographic and photographic detail that is at once realistic and very dramatic. Maibelle is clearly on a quest and we can guess pretty early on that something nasty is going to be revealed.
We learn almost immediately that our heroine hollers so much during her sleep from her nightmares that she has trouble keeping her apartments - uh oh. Maibelle doesn't have any mystical or psychic sort of problem (no ancient Chinese secret la Amy Tan) - Aimee Liu has psychoanalytic tendencies and reveals her heroine's problems that way. Maybe that's why it reminded me of the film Suddenly Last Summer towards the end (you know, Liz Taylor screaming at Montgomery Clift, all about poor Sebastian), never mind all the photographic and cinematic metaphors eg. "now I look back on those days with amazement, and a kind of dread. I remember the sensations, beautiful snapshots, but in the gaps between the frames I sense the presence of something hideous".
But the search and the story are very evocative and interesting to read. The parents of Maibelle are nicely drawn and her childhood, mixed between visits to racist grandparents on a Wiscousin farm and the streets of Chinatown, was captivating. When the climax came I grit my teeth and thought, yeah well I guess that is what it would have to be to explain the big build up but I still felt myself protest "do we have to go there?"
By Nette on Sunday, 24th November 2002, 5:15pm