Thursday, September 04, 2008

At our last book club meeting (Note: I dislike calling our times together "meetings", they are so much more than that, but at this writing, I have lack of a better word!) we decided that there would be four books on our summer reading list and that we should read as many or as few of them that we could and our first time back together would be spent talking about what we read. One of the books, The Master Butcher's Singing Club by Louise Erdrich, I had already read and the other two (My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki and The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein) were nowhere to be found in my quest for free or nearly free books. The only book I managed to get my hands on and read was The Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell. Hooray for! I like to think that there was some divine providence involved with my acquisition of this book because it was exactly the book I needed to read at this moment in my life's journey.

To the young Anna Schoene, our narrator, life in Shanghai is indeed magical. There are servants, a luxurious villa, a beautiful mother and a young, handsome father. Unfortunately, her father is also a smuggler and speculator who loves his freewheeling life more than anything (or anyone) else. Despite warnings, Schoene's father refuses to leave Shanghai even after the Japanese invade, and his wife and child retreat to Los Angeles. Anna's dreams and ideals of her father fall with Shanghai and she leaves China forever, learning to live in a land different from her his.

As the adult daughter of an father who is growing older between blinks, this book grabbed my heart and poked it in tender places. I don't always know what to do or who to be with my dad anymore, especially since my mom died three years ago. Most days I feel like the roles have been exchanged and then there are days when I feel like I am still 10 years old, searching for his approval. It gets to be confusing and frustrating and maddening and sad, all at the same time. The worst part is that I know it only gets tougher from here on out.

The Distant Land of My Father wasn't so much about cultural identity, as I thought it would be, but more of an exploration of what it means to be a daughter. But that's just my take on it. I'd love to know what you thought.

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