The Lisa See event last night was excellent. It’s wonderful to hear her speak about her books and the research that goes into them, and her family.
I tried to scribble down notes to share with all of you, and sort of succeeded. I definitely don’t have anywhere close to everything that she spoke about, nor are my notes nearly as eloquent as her storytelling was. Here are my notes, and apologies that they are sort of a hodge-podge.
When she began to think about writing this book, she knew she was interested in writing about three things:
1. Her Great-Grandfather brought a lot of “paper” merchants into the country, and his wife was a paper wife.
2. After the second major fire in China City, only one building remained intact. Her family moved their store into this building, and she spent a lot of time there as a child.
3. The confession program in the late 1950s that targeted the Chinese in America. People were asked to confess that they were here illegally, and by doing so were promised citizenship. The catch was that you were expected to rat out your neighbors and even your family members. You hit the jackpot if you could identify someone else as being a “communist.” This program destroyed communities and families.
-Many people who lived through the Confession Program don’t like to talk about it (understandably). However, some people were willing to talk about it, and Lisa See heard many of their stories. One man who now lives in Washington DC had a family – 5 kids (all born in the US) and his wife. He confessed to try to gain citizenship for his family, but his wife was deported. They fought in court for 8 years before they won. Another example was a man now in his 80s – he and his brother went together to confess to get their citizenship. 52 years later – they have never told their children or their grandchildren that they came here illegally before eventually confessing for their citizenship. The reason? They feel that since they aren’t dead yet, it’s still not safe for them to tell.
-The deepest part of Shanghai Girls is about the sense of loss that we feel for people we no longer have in our lives. People who are gone, who we’ve lost; places that we can never go back to and wouldn’t recognize even if we could.
-She and Amy Tan recently went to China together to do some research in some of the smaller villages. They lived in the same house and traveled together. In a few years when the books that each of them were researching come out it will be interesting to see what the books are like and how they each used the same experience in different ways.
And – perhaps the most important thing I learned last night (and important to others who have already read Shanghai Girls) – her next book is in fact a sequel.
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