Saturday, July 23, 2011

My take on: Journey Across the Four Seas

Journey Across the Four Seas: A Chinese Woman's Search for Home
“The decision was the toughest I’d ever faced. The choice was between my husband and my son. If I moved to Taiwan, I could save one but ruin the other. … My only consolation was that I was abandoning him to a good home. Thus, with a heavy heart I left Patrick behind and flew with my four other children to Taipei. It was the summer of 1963.” Pg. 263.

How much would you sacrifice for your children? Most people would do everything. But would you do it at the expense of breaking up your family.  In Journey Across the Four Seas by Veronica Li, the question of how much you’re willing to do for your children is at the heart of the book. The author’s mother Li-Shing-Ying (Flora) was a cut above the rest.

In 1920s Hong Kong, Flora’s family is struggling in the aftermath of her father’s death.  Education for girls is considered taboo. It’s better to gain knowledge from the older women in the family. They know things, and can warn you of danger ahead. It’s knowledge that boys aren’t privy to.

“Even in a society where men are supreme, the advantages of being a girl, especially the only girl, outweighed the disadvantages. For one, Mother loved me the most. … A daughter has another advantage – access to information. While my brothers walked around in a fog, I always had an older woman to light my way.”

I think this something that every woman can relate. Think of the times you sit around the kitchen table with your mother,  grandmothers, aunts, and cousins. You have a language to yourself that men just don’t understand.  Flora was also more aware of the family’s struggles than her brothers. Her mother pawned her jewelry to keep the family afloat.

Something that was a little foreign to me was Flora’s mother. Her reactions to some things are something my U.S.-born brain can’t relate to. Flora’s tears were considered bad luck, and her mother thought she brought bad luck to the family. It’s a totally different generation and culture, so it’s hard for me to grasp why a mother would blame a child for a family tragedy.

Against all odds, Flora was able to continue her education all the way to Hong Kong University – a very prestigious school. While reading the book, you get the sense that education is a big source of pride – not just for the parents but for the entire family. If you don’t do well, it’s not just your failure it’s the extended family as well.

Marrying an unstable husband and having four of her five in five years would stress anyone, but Flora still wanted her children to have the best education possible. Which is why leaving Patrick behind was such a tough choice. That drive for a top education didn’t stop when the family moved to the U.S.

The story is told to Veronica over series of tapes, each chapter is tape in Flora’s very rich life. Reading this, I think you learn not to take things for granted. The older generations went through a lot to get us where we are, something we often forget. 

Rating: Superb

Notes: I received a copy of the book from the author Veronica Li in exchange for an honest review. Also, I'm currently on vacation. Outside of scheduled reviews my postings will be infrequent. Normal posting will resume a week from Monday. Thanks!!

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