Sunday, September 27, 2009

Spirit Bridges, by Li Mo

Spirit Bridges: A Memoir
by, Li Mo
2009, Streetfeet Press
257 pages
ISBN: 978-0615294971

Spirit Bridges is a memoir of a girl born in Shanghai during the turmoil of the Communist Revolution in China. After the execution of Li’s father, her mother must flee with her and her two brothers, leaving Li’s older sisters behind. Li is forced to grow up while her fragmented family bounces from Hong Kong to Taipei to Madrid to New York City. Li must fight not only continuous poverty, but also various learning disabilities while being moved from one culture to another – one language to another.

Li does a good job of capturing the feeling of being dragged around the world from the eyes of a young child. It is a life filled with pain and uncertainty, with only fleeting moments of joy. Li is able to produce the hopelessness in her writing – proof that she was eventually able to overcome the challenges that made learning so difficult for her and become a talented writer. However, she paints so often with thick strokes of metaphor that it sometimes hinders the understanding of her experiences. What is more disappointing about Spirit Bridges is that we never get to see her transformation. We get the first half of a life lived struggling through poverty, cultural upheaval, violence and racial discrimination, taking us through the end of the 1970’s. What we don’t get is the climb out of the darkness that must have taken place in order for this book to ever exist. The back cover tells us that she is an “acclaimed storyteller, educator and writer,” but we never learn about those changes, her current life or how she made the transition from suffocating hardship. In fact, the story ends so abruptly with no resolution, I was left feeling that I had received only half of the book. It was as if one of the spirit bridges she speaks of had been removed and I was able to go no further with her.

For better or worse, Li has something that most writers of memoir simply don’t have – a story interesting and emotional enough to carry an entire book. I just wish I could have received the whole story within this book.

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