Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Inheritance by Lan Samantha Chang

I read Chang’s novella, Hunger, years ago and found her writing strong, spare and evocative. Hunger was a story about two Asian-American sisters and their domineering father. Inheritance is also a story about sisters, but this time spanning seven decades, in pre-war and wartime China and in America. Junan and Yinan are as different as can be, but both are shaped by their mother’s suicide. Their mother drowned herself out of fear that she would be unable to bear a son and that her husband might abandon her or take another wife. This marks Junan and Yinan’s views of love and marriage, and while Junan takes a cool, calculating approach to life, Yinan recedes into her reading and writing. Junan marries a soldier, Li Ang, but finds that holding herself back from love, from passion and possession, may be harder than she thought. And this struggle within Junan herself, and the love that Yinan and Li Ang eventually share, changes the sisters’ relationship forever. Narrated by Junan’s eldest daughter, Hong, this novel about family secrets and stories and the heartbreak of the past is expertly drawn. While it lags a bit in the end, or tries to tie too much together, really, I found that Chang’s talents were more fully realized here. I just hope she doesn’t make me wait another 6 years for the next one.

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