Book Review: 'Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair With China Gone Wrong'
“Remember aiwu jiwu. I know our conditions aren’t very good. It’s cold outside and we don’t have hot water, but as long as you have love, everything will be alright.”(Crow Proverb on page 53: Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair Gone Wrong)
Susan is in love with the Chinese culture: she has spent five years learning Mandarin, speaks it really well(except for when she encounters those who speak Cantonese). In 1990 she arrives on campus for her exchange year in Hong Kong. She describes the landscapes as different from what she imagined. There were no “neon lights and "skyscrapers” just barges and boats in the Tolo Harbour.
That was not the only image obscured by reality.
Her love life has not been steady before Cai and Cai is what you would call a Chinese Heartthrob. Susan readily admits she wanted to spend some time with him besides their first innocent encounter with her locking herself outside the dorm.
“He stood six feet tall with confident eyes and infectious smile”(12). Susan fell in love with him first obviously, but as the reader, you get the feeling that maybe Susan have tried too hard and her love for China reached out to this man who could potentially be her anchor, her driving force behind her China dreams.
As the blurb suggests, Susan was in an abusive relationship with Cai for years and eventually he threatens to take their son away. The abuse is not physical. Not at all. This is what I was expecting to happen when I read the blurb.
The form of abuse he plays on Susan is far worse. Some sections of the book is divided by words from Ban Zhao, the first known female Chinese historian. These sections include proper ways for a Chinese female to live- for her husband.
Susan did not want to be considered as another “loud American woman” so she put up with Cai’s porn addiction, his belittling her, his cheating and other mysterious ways that wreaked havoc on her emotions.
The Red Qipao Dress
Basic Mandarin Greetings
Language and Culture in Good Chinese Wife
Despite such a sad but eventually triumphant story, I learned much from this memoir. Just like Susan, I have fallen in love with a culture different than my own. The difference is she married someone from that culture who has a problem.
And when you fall in love with an idea and think its ideal, you learn so much about it and you mistake it for good. Many times Susan has excused her husband’s horrible behavior by saying,(and I am paraphrasing here), “He’s adjusting to America.”
Even her therapist mentioned that this was the reason he was so emotionally abusive. I doubt that Susan would have been in her presence long after that.
What I loved were the simple phrases used throughout the memoir. I was getting a mini Chinese lesson without realizing it. Simple phrases for “thank you” and “noontime nap” I captured in my memory for future reference.[Please see short video on Mandarin phrases].
Even the style and dress of Hong Kong interested me. While I read the book , I Googled red qipao dresses and Hong Kong University.
Chinese University of Hong Kong
Have You Ever Been to China?
How Was Your Experience?
Impending Conflict Dominates the Story
I was almost through with Susan’s memoir by the middle of the story because I was hoping she would stop making culture clashes an excuse for how horrible he was treating her. These were moments that made me angry, pulled tears from my heart and I could never imagine in a million years being in her shoes and surviving.
Some other part me though, knew that this was no longer some fiction piece which I normally reviewed, but a real life story about real folks. You are forewarned that Cai will be the “bad guy” and so you have to prepare yourself for those moments.
Every story has a message.
And Good Chinese Wife is a reminder that anyone can fall in love. Just make sure they love you back.
Author: Susan Blumberg-Kason