FROM ONE ROOT MANY FLOWERS: A Century of Family Life in China and America

Virginia C. Li, Author
Virginia C. Li, Author . Prometheus $28 (325p) ISBN 978-1-59102-081-3
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This plainspoken debut by a septuagenarian Chinese-American passes through roughly a century's worth of family and world history as it tells the story of a high-level official in pre-Communist China and his family losing a lifestyle of chauffeured cars and servants and beginning anew in the United States. Li's guileless account relies on interviews, diaries and memories to relate her father's transition from decorated general and governor to struggling owner of a Chinese eatery in the suburbs of New York City; her mother's shift from first lady of Guangdong Province to restaurant hostess; and Li's own conversion from obeisant stay-at-home wife to international consultant to the World Health Organization and the U.N. With too many decades and disasters in her lifetime to be covered in depth, Li ends up cantering briskly past some of the most significant and arresting parts of her history, giving them all equally insufficient attention. In just one example, her first husband is introduced without a word on how they met or why she fell for an unloving louse. Li would have had more room for backstory and reflection had she refrained from committing seemingly every recalled memory to the page, as in relating where she caught a connecting train or describing a teak cabinet she regrets not buying. This informality in the context of her and her family's agonizing displacement and loss makes Li seem like a dispassionate observer. It reads as though she was never there. B&w photos. Agent, Julie Popkin. (Aug.)

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