Book Review: Miah, by Julia Lin
By Carousel Calvo
When elders talks about family history, they try to speak about them in a cursory manner, and often levity creeps in even when the conversation turns to serious matters. Nostalgia colours their perception. They try to brush off the discomfort, and, sometimes, conveniently forget the pain since they tell themselves: “time has past; all is forgiven.” Likewise, those who have lived long may say that Fate has a hand in shaping a person’s own history, so they say “It cannot be changed; it cannot be altered.” Yet, when elders finally allow themselves to unearth the secrets they have kept buried, we share in their catharsis, and, thus, we glimpse a part of ourselves in their stories.
In Julia Lin’s collection of short stories Miah, she questions yet reasserts the value of fate in human lives. Her stories are based on three generations of Huang women from Taiwan that accept the burdens they have acquired in life. The lives of these women unfold with gentle descriptions of domesticity. Lin’s prose brings to mind the peace and solitude of rural Taiwan. The lush descriptions of rainforest and tinkling riverbeds conjure images of happy childhood. Even the camaraderie and hostility between kin captures the reality of family and filial relationships. However, interspersed between these placid scenes are images of tragic violence – torture, suicide, and abandonment. Lin does not shy away from talking about the Japanese Occupation or the Kuomintang reign in Taiwan. Her characters understand the injustice that has befallen them. Their lives impacted by something larger and grander than they are.
The women in Lin’s stories endure. They are receptacles that quietly take on the burden of their family’s history. Their sadness is palpable in the page:
Once, when I was very daring, I thought perhaps I was on my destined path, but then I quickly realized that fate would not be so cruel as to deprive my husband of both a son and a wife… (“The Colonel and Mrs Wang”)
These women understand how tragedy is part and parcel of history, so they accept their fate with grace. They understand their role, and so they endure.
Although Miah is grounded in vivid and, often times, poetic images, its dialogues are stilted and forced. Lin’s hand in weaving a picture in the reader’s mind is self-assured, but when her characters speak there is nothing fresh to say. They repeat the emphasis of the theme or symbol which unfortunately makes the point redundant. Despite this problem, Lin’s debut heralds a new voice in Asian-Canadian literature. Lin’s stories are personal and honest like stories told after dinner plates have been taken to the sink, and hot oolong tea rest quietly in their porcelain cups.
This review was published on Ricepaper Magazine’s 18.2 Issue