With last month’s travel*, I managed to blaze through two memoir-like books taking place in times and places I wouldn’t personally know. Yet with my upbringing, the Chinese and Buddhist cultural aspects are somewhat familiar.
I couldn’t quite suspend my disbelief when reading Xinran’s Sky Burial: An Epic Love Story of Tibet. That is, I wasn’t entirely convinced that Xinran met the woman, Shu Wen, who lived for 30 years in Tibet. At one point, Shu Wen, well on the way to having a large and convoluted story, recaps the epic life story of her friend Shuoma. My mind boggled for a little while.
To wit, the novel is about a newly married Chinese woman in 1950s China who travels to Tibet after news of her army doctor husband’s death. The telegram was mysteriously sparse on details and she need to know more. Her transformation, the truth of his fate, and description of the Tibetan land via translation from Chinese was truly haunting.
By contrast, Cecilia Chiang’s The Seventh Daughter was very slick. From a novel with deliberately ragged pages, this memoir/cookbook had oversized and glossy pages and, I learned, was peppered with recipes. I wanted a truly enveloping memoir but each chapter briefly delineated a part of her life – it seemed that she serendipitously overcame her hardships – and then we are immediately presented with a spate of common-themed recipes. I decided that by the end, she had become the well-connected (read: smarmy) restauranteur that she initially admired of successful men.
I will buy Chiang’s book for the recipes have convinced me of how simple cooking Chinese food can be. It’s a worthy addition to my Chinese food & stories & studies library!
* 2-hour flight from Toronto to Halifax, 1.5-hour flight from Halifax to Montreal, 3-hour layover at the Montreal airport, 5-hour flight from Montreal to Vancouver