I started reading Angela Tung’s blog many years ago, drawn in by stories of her single life in New York City with a good communications job at a big pharma company. Searching back through GMail, I learned she commented on my blog for the first time in October 2006–I hadn’t realized it has been that long! I’m 100% sure her Internet handle at the time was a big hook for me and then her writing, her sardonic way of relating her life kept her blog amongst my most anticipated reads through Google Reader. But before we became bloggy-friends, she already had a huge reversal in her relationship (hence being single). Blog readers have been along for the ride as Angela wrote, edited, and now self-published her memoir, Black Fish: Memoir of a Bad Luck Girl, all the while going through major, but good, life changes.
During the writing process, Angela released parts of her memoir as blog entries but since I did not read her entries necessarily in order, I stopped reading those posts, preferring to get the story all at once, as a book in my hands. You can’t do that with a serialized blog story, you know? And, as luck would have it, people who weighed in on the possible cover designs for the memoir were sent a copy of the book. Thanks, Angela!!
In the first part, in 1993, Angela and Joe meet in university and their relationship develops. They have good times and bad, where the bad ones made me squirm because I recognized my own relationships in those interactions. We know what’s coming, but I have certainly also missed the signs myself.
In the second part, in 1998, Angela embarks on her teaching assignment in China. Having visited Beijing recently, I was nodding along with her honest exposé of her living conditions and observations of interpersonal relations around her. We meet her cousin Huang Lei who embraces her like a sister during her time there, but Angela’s presence in China sets in motion a series of events that changes her cousin’s life forever. I’ve read references to that story in her blog, but getting the story from the top was really interesting, particularly since I’m fascinated by the traditional Chinese attitudes towards love and marriage.
The third part, simply titled “Rat and Rat”, describes Angela’s relationship with and care of Joe’s mother who has Parkinson’s disease, juxtaposing it with her outside life (or lack thereof). I wholeheartedly admired how she accepted her responsibility like the dutiful Asian daughter-in-law that I could never be. Blogs are a peculiar platform and the voice one develops for it may not reflect all sides of you–I saw a really sensitive and caring side of Angela. I’m not sure the caretaker role was natural to her, but she wore it anyhow even as things around her got worse and many others would simply quit. I was indignant for her (and relayed the anecdotes all to NPY) by her treatment by her in-laws who acted both callously and under the guise of tradition. I wondered while reading this part how a writer chooses and justifies the degree of exposition of other people’s lives.
In the fourth and fifth parts, we’ve been through the set-up but everything changes. Angela faces the most wretched of decisions that doesn’t have the most clear right or wrong path. There was a lot of foreshadowing in the previous parts but the last two parts were more in the present, no hazy glow, just the pain of reality. At the end, she takes a trip abroad to meet up with her cousin and they can compare notes on how similar, or not, their paths have been.
Each of the five parts of the memoir indicate the zodiac animals who will figure the most in that part and haiku poems illustrate the kind of interaction they have. The chapters are simply titled the year of the events (1993-2005) which, especially the earlier years, instantly transported me back to that awkward time and my relationships back then. Zodiac signs’ compatibility, symbols such as the eponymous black fish, and fortune-tellers’ readings are interwoven with the story, lending the feeling that despite all the rational decisions, all-too-human actions and reactions, there might have been a greater force at work, a taunting but benevolent force in the end.
Sometimes you read a blog for long enough and you think you know someone, especially if they aren’t always fake-smiley and seem to write honestly. Still, there are more dimensions to the author and I was constantly amazed by how much Angela had to go through, more than anyone I know. I loved how the story was laid out, strictly chronologically, with references to symbols and signs to tie events together–simple yet grand. I did not know before reading the book, but I think there’s screenplay adaptation potential to her story: there is Angela’s main story with changes in her roles and scenery over the years; then, there is Huang Lei’s story which mirrors to some extent Angela’s, reinforcing the central message. Finally, I really enjoyed how Angela’s tone was similar to what I’ve grown to like on her blog–honest and brave, like your not-too-girly girlfriend telling you her story. Let’s face it, I wasn’t going to be friends with the overly girly types anyways.
Disclosure: Review (cmp.ly/1 ) I have not been paid to review or post about the topic.