…his life resembled a dried up mouse carcass you might find behind the refrigerator…Noah’s Compass, Anne Tyler
That quotation may be slightly incorrect, since I don’t have the book in front of me, but you get the general idea of that sentence. Occasionally life does feel like a shadow of it’s former self, a barren shell of regrets and lost hope.
Noah’s Compass was one of the books I finished last week, and in typical Tyler fashion, the book’s namesake Noah Pennywell is a quirky, sad-sack sort of character who lets life pass him by while he meanders on his raggedy way. Whenever I read an Anne Tyler novel, I expect there’s a wry little grin on my lips – her characters are the kind of people that make me shake my head in fond despair, because they embody so many pathetic traits we find utterly recognizable in ourselves and people we know and care about.
I put Noah to bed on Thursday, and dived into Shanghai Girls, Lisa See’s novel (freshly issues in paperback). This came to me via a giveaway sponsored by the lovely Dolce Belleza and Random House. Having read See’s other novels (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, and Peony in Love), and despite Bellezza’s less than enthusiastic review, I was eager to see what Shanghai Girls was all about.
There is a lot of agony in See’s novels. Chinese women never seem happy in them, and the stories of oppression and torment can be hard to bear. But I’m always interested in reading about Chinese culture – my daughter in law Nantana is Chinese, and I recognize remnants of this ancient Chinese thinking in many of the things she believes and practices. Reading these novels help me understand the legacy that is in her blood and bones.
Shanghai Girls is the story of two sisters, Pearl and May, born in Shanghai at a time before World War II when the city is cosmopolitan and enlightened. Their lives are thrust into chaos when their father’s gambling debts cause them to lose their home and be forced into arranged marriages. This coincides with the Japanese invasion of China, and the concurrent destruction and reign of terror. After many hardships, Pearl and May find their way to California, and it seems that life may at last be turning for the better when Pearl’s long awaited son dies at birth.
I focus my eyes on my jade bracelet. All these years and for all the years after I die, it will remain unchanged. It will always be hard and cold – just a piece of stone. Yet for me it is an object that ties me to the past, to people and places that are gone forever. It’s continued perfection serves as a physical reminder to keep living, to look to the future, to cherish what I have. It reminds me to endure. I’ll live one morning after another, one step after another, because my will to live is so strong. I tell myself these things and I tamp steel around my heart to cover my sorrow…
I do like this book, although it is painful to read sometimes. But then, life sometimes is painful. No one lives more than half a century without knowing that fact. But we do indeed endure, as Pearl says. We “go on living one morning afer another,” looking for those moments of beauty which make the living worthwhile.
I hope your weekend has been filled with beautiful moments.