I feel like I just got back from a two-week tour of China’s Must-Sees with the women in my family. I guess that means Deanna Fei’s A Thread of Sky was good!
My Google Alerts set up for “Asian American literature” alerted me to a Huff Po article by author Deanna Fei, I Called Amy Tan A Dirty Word–And Then She Friended Me. In turn, I learned that Fei published her first novel, A Thread of Sky, in early April. I requested it from the library and actually read a book published as recently as this year!
One can’t deny that the set-up of the novel suggests a homage to Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club, afterall six women in three generations of a family who are kind of estranged from each other plan a trip together to China that will presumably set their dynamics straight in some way. Let’s see what happens….
I found the novel a little difficult to get into. We are introduced to the widowed mother, Irene, who doesn’t find comfort with three overachieving daughters because they tend to scorn her about past events and fly the coop, leaving her desperately alone physically and emotionally. The grandmother, her two daughters and three grown granddaughters–all unmarried save for one–all have secrets they feel they need to guard from each other through life and especially during the trip, and consequently they misunderstand each other and there is always only the most fragile peace.
It’s been a long time since I’ve read a novel like A Thread of Sky. It was epic and I venture to say Joy Luck Club was the last one that envelops you so but the characters were more fully realized, less of the caricature that was adequate for the late ’80s/early ’90s Asian American novel. The characters had modern problems, for example I enjoyed the detail with which Deanna Fei wrote about Irene’s frustration chasing a hypothesis and producing a mouse model for Alzheimer’s. I enjoyed the tone–it was a dramatic movie and definitely not a comedy, and the characters were well-developed and realistic. I admired how the author could have a twelfth-grader’s voice, a mother’s voice, and an 80-year-old former revolutionary. And when the novel was concluded, I think I would enjoy a sequel (or epilogue) to know the characters were doing alright.
Quite irreverently, partway through reading the novel, I wondered if you could play the “Sex and the City” game of “Which character are you?”* I certainly played it when I read Joy Luck Club.**
- Nora, the eldest sister, has material and career success but cannot trust her fiancé and her love life is far from perfect.
- Kay, the middle sister, is an activist and is found at the beginning of the novel looking for her roots in China, with some unexpected results. She’s not unattractive but hasn’t let anyone in to know for herself what love is. From the author’s bio, it seems that Deanna Fei fashioned Kay after herself.
- Sophie is the baby of the family and in her overachieving sisters’ shadows. An artist, she is not unaccomplished but she’s more sensitive, has to deal with the culmination of all the family tensions and feels physically inadequate.
* Charlotte, I hope. Although I am of the opinion the best to be is Miranda.
** Probably everyone, myself included, wanted to be cool and successful Waverly. But I was hopelessly a Lena, now graduated to June… maybe.