|Author Lisa See|
|Shoes worn by Chinese women|
whose feet had been bound
Ms. See began with a quick--but fascinating--overview of her heritage. Her great great grandparents lived in China, where her great great grandmother made a living by carrying people on her back from village to village. Ms. See's great grandfather Fong See emigrated in the 1880s to Sacramento, where he worked in a factory that made crotchless underwear for brothels. (Their motto was "fancy underwear for fancy ladies.") He built a mercantile empire and became the godfather/patriarch of Los Angele's Chinatown. He was a powerful man in many ways. He had four wives in his lifetime (at least two were concurrent), and he fathered a child when he was in his 90s. (Before the days of Viagra, Ms. See pointed out.) One of those wives was a white woman, a union that contravened the laws prohibiting marriages between Caucasians and persons with more than one-quarter Chinese blood. Ms. See herself grew up in Chinatown as part of an extended 400+ person Chinese-American family.
With this background, Ms. See introduced China Dolls, her latest book. The novel deals with the relationship between three female friends, a dynamic that Ms. See has witnessed firsthand. Ms. See's mother has two lifelong girlfriends and, according to Ms. See, "On any given day, one of them will be on the outs." Her observation confirms research done by NASA into the "correct" number of astronauts to send into space. (The decision was two astronauts rather than three in order to prevent situations in which two people would gang up against the third.)
|My favorite booksellers (Serena and Cathy |
from Copperfish Books) were on hand
While researching her book, Ms. See had the chance to talk with a number of women who performed on the Chop Suey Circuit. One interviewee was a 91 year old former dancer who still teaches Jazzercise. Another was a woman named "Mai Tai" after whom the drink is purportedly named. (I'm not sure what her act was, but her favorite all time costume was made from 15 yards of monkey fur.) Ms. See's website has extensive information about the background for China Dolls that includes videos of her interviews with three women who performed at the Forbidden City Nightclub. (Click here to check it out. FYI, there is a similar section on Dreams of Joy.)
Thanks to the Friends of the Punta Gorda Library for bringing such a wonderful speaker to our little town. I am now officially primed for Book Expo, which is coming up in May. So many books, so little time.