Saturday, March 28, 2009
Lan Samantha Chang/INHERITANCE
In the 1930s in southern China, a very refined young women finds herself in an unexpected marriage because of her father's gambling debts. Her surprise husband is a soldier in what will become Chiang Kai-Shek's Nationalist Army. But what surprises Jinan the most is how desperately in love she falls with this distant man, and that he will be the only thing that can come between Jinan and the person who loves her most in the world: her younger sister. The "Inheritance" in the title is the legacy of botched and missing love the two sisters have been passed from their mother, who committed suicide for lack of love when Jinan and Yunan were young. The story of four generations of women and the ways they handle and mishandle love arcs from post-dynastic China over the Japanese occupation, World War II, the rise of the Communists, the Nationalist exodus to Taiwan, and the subsequent flight to America.
I picked up this book on a whim and then put off reading it, quite ready to be bored and disappointed by another Amy Tan knock-off about the horrors of the War. Although in all honesty it did start on some very familiar territory, the book turned out to be much richer. More than anything, it was about the relationship between two sisters, and about the distance people arbitrarily create between themselves and the people they love: for the sake of pride, or fear, or hurt. The story is both a loose summary of twentieth century Chinese history and a reminder to try to tear down walls while we still can.