Born in China ZoŽ S. Roy was an eyewitness to the red
Mao’s regime. Her writing has appeared in Canadian Stories, Thought
Magazine and The Northern Light. Her debut short fiction collection,
Butterfly Tears, was published by Inanna Publications and Education
Inc. in October 2009. Awarded an M.Ed. from the University of New
Brunswick and an M.A. from Saint Mary’s University, she lives in
Toronto and works in adult education.
with ZoŽ S. Roy
raised her head and looked deeply into Gui’s Wife’s eyes, knowing
with certainty that she could not stay. The green sheet of paper that
unfolded in front of her, granting her asylum, looked shiny, as if a
sparkling star had emerged in a starless sky."
Reviewed by Sheila Cornelius
These haunting tales of
unrealised dreams and nostalgic regret read like chapters of a novel
about the same character. Within the subgenre of the Asian immigrant
experience, the protagonists are female in all but one of the fifteen
stories, women whose lives mirror and echo similar experiences.
Moving between China
and North American or Canadian cities, married or single, childless
or mothers, women’s lives are changed and families divided by
China’s Cultural Revolution.
"Revolution is an act
of insurrection whereby one class overthrows another." Mao Ze
Dong’s words quoted by the author are the key to understanding the
catalyst to this particular migration. In swift transition, an elite
class became persecuted outsiders in their own society. In Frog
Fishing a teacher suspected of ‘rightist’ tendencies , is
saved from an accusation of political disloyalty when a bolder
colleague defends her. The story Ten
Yuan, the only one with a
male main character, conjures the atmosphere of political repression;
a young man’s professional future hinges on a chance unguarded
victims of events they can’t control or understand. In Balloons,
for instance, schoolgirl Suyun has mud thrown at her and is called a
"stinking capitalist". This is in strong contrast with the status
of children of later stories who become the focus of ambitions and a
means for their mothers’ to integrate into an adopted culture,
although not the sole cause. In A
Mandarin Duck, for instance,
the abused mother Huidi is awakened to a need to assume
responsibility and prompted to learn English when she realizes "she
could live in Canada not only for her son, but also for herself".
Recurrent flashbacks to
a former life are ambivalent, both signposts and distractions as the
woman comes to terms with her new situation. Glimpses of traumatic
post-Mao China depicted in the stories are balanced by memories of
idyllic rural scenes. In the title story, Butterfly Tears,
set in Montreal, Sunni’s memory is haunted by dreams of her home,
and the recall of Chinese legends and music. Her concerns for her son
and her husband’s infidelity contrast with childhood security and
memory of her grandmother’s stories. In Wild Onions Sha,
whose mother died in China, is only able to come to terms with her
new life after seeking out a grave in Montreal.
are another stumbling block. Given a language divide, close
relationships are only possible between members of the same ethnic
minority. Typically, men are abusive husbands, as in Herbs, or
wish to stifle their wife’s career aspirations, as in A Woman of
China. Seemingly unattached, they often have ties elsewhere. The
boyfriend in Twin Rivers, for
reveals that he has made arrangements for his wife and child to join
him in Canada. Here the dialogue, as in many of the stories, helps to
emphasise differences of personality and expectations between the
Her voice quivered. "Do you mean they’re coming to Canada?"
Fortunately, few women
react in such an extreme way as the heroine of Twin Rivers,
and many find female allies. Lesbianism in two stories is seem as a
viable alternative to oppression and exploitation. Fortune
Telling has an unusually upbeat ending, when two friends look
towards a happy future, their understated sexual bond largely forged
by disillusionment with men.
"Of course." He
looked at her and added, "We will have to stop; they’ll be here
She cleared her throat.
"But what about our future?"
"We do not have a
future. Why would you think this?"
In stories where
transition is a major theme, planes, boats and trains are recurring
motifs as a conduit for separation. By contrast, media brings news
and hope of reunion; emails and letters, television reports and
newspaper notices are points of contact. This is demonstrated most
clearly in Balloons, the
title a metaphor for the fractured
family which is partially enabled to partly reunite. For the most
part the time switches are well-managed and the use of symbols and
motifs adds greatly to the literary aspect of the stories - exotic
details which give a sense of complexity. A good example of this is Wild Onions, where the simple plant
sought as a dietary
addition becomes a symbolic reminder of China itself.
A few of the stories
are less unsuccessful, such as Gingko
with its melodramatic
ending. Unlikely coincidences mar the funny and upbeat Blind Date
while the surreal eco-friendliness of Jing
and the Caterpillar strikes a false note. Most are compellingly
authentic portraits of
women who draw strength from the past to cope with uncertain futures.