by Deborah Rogers –
Instead of just one book, we tackled an author at our October meeting, encouraging members to read any of the works of Lisa See. She’s an American writer with Chinese heritage and has published 11 books so far in her career: a memoir, three books in a mystery series, and seven historical fiction novels.
Despite our group having read many different books between us, there are definitely some strong themes that run across See’s writing and it was really interesting to hear those threads being pulled out as we went around the group and everyone talked about their experiences. Something noted repeatedly by our readers was how impressive the depth of research was that brought these stories to life. In each of the novels See takes the reader into the past and into a place that is likely completely foreign to them. The Korean island of Jeju for instance, or rural China in the 1950s. The setting, and the unfolding of the historical context, are vital to her writing. Our readers commented that they had learned a lot through reading See’s work, and that in many cases the book became a launch point for further investigation and learning.
A theme, and perhaps similarity, between each of the books our group read was the focus on female relationships. Best friends, mothers and daughters, sisters; the heart of the story were everyday relatable connections that we all have. However, these somewhat ordinary characters were placed against huge historical, and often quite brutal, events. In Dreams of Joy we witness famine, violence and the falling apart of Mao Tse Tung’s Great Leap Forward through the eyes of a young Chinese American girl. While the character herself seems a little insubstantial, she works as a stand-in for the real people who lived through those real events.
We discussed The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, The Island of Sea Women and the mystery novel Dragon Bones. They were all well received by our group, though not necessarily loved. We talked about the way that the language feels a little cold or distant. There wasn’t a strong emotional connection to the characters; it was the depth of history that was the draw, and the pull to continue reading. Lisa See has a website that is full of her research findings, and it makes a great companion for anyone wanting to read more of her novels.
Our November meeting will be the last of the year! It takes place on Tuesday, November 12 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. via Zoom and we’ll be discussing Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen by Kate Taylor. Sign up to our Book Club Newsletter to get the link and stay up-to-date with all our news: https://seasidemagazine.ca/book-club/.