Peach Blossom Spring by Melissa Fu
Separated from the rest of the family, mother and son find some respite in Shanghai. But, with the end of the war, a new threat looms: Communism prompts them to pack up and relocate to Taiwan. Throughout the turbulent years, nothing can break the bond between mother and son. But when the young man gets the opportunity to study in America, Meilin sacrifices her own desires for his future success.
In common with other Chinese immigrants, Renshu takes another name. But Henry Dao – husband, father and diligent researcher at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in New Mexico – has changed his personality too. Never quite at ease in American circles and ever anxious that liaising with the ‘wrong’ side of the Chinese diaspora will have negative repercussions for his mother back in Taipei, he blocks his daughter’s attempts to explore her Asian heritage, even when her grandmother comes to visit.
A family saga across six decades, two continents and three generations, this novel is inspired by the life of the author’s father. With the personal struggles for survival alongside major events of global history, it couldn’t not be interesting, but what stands out for me is the honesty in Henry’s character: while successful in so many ways, he can’t completely shake off the past. As the story Meilin tells Renshu as a child teaches, with every misfortune there is a blessing and every blessing contains the seeds of misfortune: a more sober – and in my opinion mature – philosophy than the American dream.
Thanks to publishers Wildfire for my advance proof copy.
Voting Day by Clare O’Dea
Vreni is a farmer’s wife who sees surgery, and a fortnight’s hospitalisation, as a break from heavy chores. Before that, she’ll spend the day with her only daughter, a smart secretary in Bern. But Margrit is trapped in a difficult situation she can’t expect her country-bumpkin mother to understand.
We meet another mother at the hospital. Esther is lucky to have secured a cleaning job, given her background. She hopes it will be a step towards a reunion with her son who was taken into care. Beatrice, the hospital administrator who helped Esther after her release from prison, urges patience, but should she do more?
Clare O’Dea’s fiction debut is one to savour, with beautiful language and convincing characterisation. Despite the disappointing outcome of the referendum, the story is uplifting, yet the author does not stint from showing the women’s biases, both internalised misogyny and racism. I’m glad she wove in the injustice meted out to the Yenish community, which I learnt about through the novel Jakob’s Colours and I believe Clare has addressed in her journalism.
Voting Day was published in Switzerland in four languages last year. It’s out in the UK from Fairlight books next week. Thanks to them for my review copy.
I wasn’t sure how to link these two books so I’m grateful to Charli Mills’ latest flash fiction challenge for the solution. Having done a couple of online readings recently to promote the anthology, Poetry and Settled Status For All, edited by Ambrose Musiyuwa, I’m extra sensitised to how our human rights can be savagely stripped away. So I’ve borrowed from Voting Day for my 99-word story on ready to change.
“Don’t we have enough on our plates already? Why take on another chore? Let the men delude themselves they can make a difference putting crosses in boxes. It’s we who make the world a better place. One lullaby, one wiped nose, one hot dinner at a time.”
I smile as my mother asks when I’m meeting the doctor’s son again. Smile as I nudge the placard under the bed with my stockinged foot. I accept her praise for the cake I baked for her visit. She isn’t ready for female franchise but I’ll fight until she’s allowed to vote.