Belle Yang tells her story of fleeing from a stalker boyfriend, known as ‘Rotten Egg’ in the book, to her parents’ home, where she is isolated and lonely. She begins to talk to her father about his past, his boyhood in China, living as part of a large extended family with his grandparents and many uncles and aunts, struggling with poverty and hunger and family disputes of all kinds, then later with the Communist oppression. Listening to his story and telling his story in her own way makes her relationship with her father blossom.
Yang’s narration is a bit confusing as the storyline moves from brother to brother, and from current to past. There are many characters and the drawing style doesn’t change despite the timeline shift so it sometimes took me a while to realize that a certain comment was made by her father in present time, for example. That’s probably why I started and stopped this graphic novel a few times, when it usually takes me just a couple of days to read most graphic novels.
But I really enjoyed her illustration style, which is at once modern and traditional. As she explained in an interview with Memoirville, she explained that she used a brush as well as black washes and watercolour, which “expresses our culture, history, and language the best”.
Although we are of different generations, I could understand where Yang was coming from. As a young adult, she just wanted to get away from her culture, to be ‘American’, and it was only later in life that she wanted to know about her history, her family, her heritage. While I’m not American (I’ve lived in the US for the past few years but am still a Singaporean), I was desperate as a teen to move away from my Chinese-ness (my great-grandparents were from China). I hated the Chinese lessons that we were forced to take in school. I didn’t appreciate my more Chinese-educated grandparents, especially my grandfather, who loved his Chinese tea (he collected Chinese tea sets and on Sundays when we visited, there would also be a variety of Chinese tea to round off the night) and Chinese paintings. One of his own paintings hangs in my house today, a bird perched on a tree eating a pomegranate. And while I don’t know much about Chinese tea, I do really like to drink tea and have a drawer stuffed full of different types of tea (including several types of Chinese teas).
I guess this is my roundabout way of saying that while Yang’s graphic novel wouldn’t be one that makes my top ten list, it affected me in its own subtle way, making me think of my late grandfather, and of my own previous reluctance to accept my heritage.
I read this book for the Global Women of Colour challenge (challenge page)
Belle Yang is an artist and a writer.
Born in Taiwan, Belle Yang spent part of her childhood in Japan. At age seven she immigrated to the United States with her family. She attended Stirling University in Scotland, graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in biology but went on to study art at Pasadena Art Center College of Design and the Beijing Institute of Traditional Chinese Painting.
She worked and traveled in China for three years and returned to the United States late in 1989 after the Tiananmen Massacre.
Baba: A Return to China Upon My Father’s Shoulders
The Odyssey of a Manchurian
Forget Sorrow: An Ancestral Tale
Hannah Is My Name
Always Come Home to Me
Foo the Flying Frog of Washtub Pond