Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cultural Binds

No written law has ever been more binding than
unwritten custom supported by popular opinion.
--Carrie Chapman Catt, Senate Hearing on women's suffrage , 1900

Wednesday, I got to play hookey....
At least that’s how it felt as I left my manuscript behind (I’m down to the last few chapters which aren’t flowing as easily as I’d hoped) and went over to take part in the Foothill Authors Series at Foothill College.
This month is Women’s History Month. Since My Half of the Sky focuses on a young woman who wants to change with the day but is held back by tradition, I was pleased to speak on this auspicious occasion.
To be honest, though, I couldn’t remember Women’s History Month from my childhood. Or what we did. How we celebrated.
I was relieved--sort of--to discover the reason was not my mental capacity. When I was a kid, Women’s History Month was only a day (which started in 1909). The day turned into a week in 1978. The week turned into a month in 1987. Perhaps if we can keep the momentum rolling, we can look forward to a year....a century....a millennium...forever.
The Foothill gathering was interesting, as one would expect with a room full of intelligent students. One question that particularly struck me was a student who asked, “Do you think that part of the culture that defines gender is speech? Are men and women’s speech different?”
Although I couldn’t think of examples in Chinese, I was reminded of Japan where there was definitely a difference in the way one spoke as a female/male, superior/inferior, stranger/friend.
The question has me still thinking. Does the English language have gender-based speech differences? Can you think of examples in other cultures?

Book of the Week: The Soloist by Steve Lopez.
LA Times Columnist Steve Lopez takes us on a fascinating trip into the life of gifted musician, Nathanial Ayers, a past student at Julliard who impressed the professors so much he was annually given a scholarship. The third year at Julliard Mr. Ayers went nuts.
For thirty-some years he battled the demons in his head and wandered the streets. He was happy playing his music in the tunnels of LA and sleeping outside a factory in the toy district where he used a pair of drumsticks to keep rats at bay.
Mr. Lopez often saw him on his way to work, and one day wrote a column about Mr. Ayers, thinking it was a one-off topic. But Lopez became so entrenched in the well-being of this man that each time he tried to back away, he was drawn back in. The story is his unsuspecting, funny, depressing, sometimes heartbreaking journey.

***If you haven’t had a chance, please ask your local library to order a copy of My Half of the Sky.
Please leave your opinion about the book at your favorite online bookstore (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powells,/etc.)
Please keep spreading the word.
Thank you!

1 comment:

Lynn said...

Thanks for sharing about your Women's History Month Experience. That's a really intriguing question about the speech differences. I'd love to hear more about the differences you detected in Japan.

And The Soloist sounds like an amazing book. I'll look for it.

I mentioned your fried rice recipe in my latest post, by the way, so send your hungry fans over. Are you having any success in making soup?

What People Are Saying About My Half of the Sky

My Half of the Sky was the BookSense Pick for August 2006 as well as a Forbes Book Club Pick.

"McBurney-Lin tells a wonderfully entertaining story with the traditional coming-of-age theme (which is experienced universally)...weaving in the cultural challenges of growing up in China's rapidly changing social system."
Mary Warpeha, co-President of the Minnesota Chapter of US-China Friendship Association
March 2010

"The novel ...includes many of the tales and the folk ways of the people living in the rural areas of South China, still followed provincially. The story takes place in current China, but could relate the dilemma of any young woman in rural China through the ages."
Kitty Trescott, National Board of the Midwest Region of US-China Friendship Association. March 2010

"A lot is expected of a young Chinese girl. My Half of the Sky by Jana McBurney-Lin is the story of Li Hui, a young girl who has just achieved marriageable age. She seeks to make the most of herself, but the expectations all around her make it difficult, as her parents seek to use her as pawn to their advantage, she is faced with what she believes to be true love. She must balance career, romance, and family, all to somehow make everyone happy, a tough endeavor indeed. An engaging and entertaining read from beginning to end, "My Half of the Sky" is a poignant tale of the modern Chinese woman, and recommended for community library collections.
--Midwest Book Review November, 2008

“It is a rare women’s novel that sensitively describes the life of a young educated woman in modern-day China in its full complexity, without resorting to unnecessary sentimentalism. Jana’s deep knowledge of the realities of life in China and Singapore makes the reading extra rewarding. In fact, with every new page the novel gets harder to put down and you find yourself gobbling it up before you know it. Finally, the author has given a voice to the Li Hui in all of us, as we struggle for the golden middle between tradition and the modern momentum of our world.”
Isabella Sluzek
Friends of the Museum Book Review 2008

You'll be rooting all the way for Li Hui as she struggles, ahead of the curve, to be her own woman in an emerging, modern China. Jana McBurney-Lin's My half of the Sky is a beautiful, witty, touching debut novel.
Thomas B. Sawyer
Head Writer TV Series "Murder, She Wrote,"
Author - The Sixteenth Man

A complex and mesmerizingly original tale of a young Chinese woman caught between the modern world and the pull of her ancient culture. McBurney-Lin’s intimate portrait of China sparks with insights and is peopled with characters so rich and alive, they seem to breathe on the page. Dazzling and unforgettable.
Caroline Leavitt,
Author - Girls in Trouble

McBurney-Lin's debut novel is a gift. Li Hui is a memorable heroine, a young woman torn between her heart and her culture.Her daunting journey is a trip into China's complicated soul, and a deeply moving exploration of love, honor, duty, and loss." Frank Baldwin, Author - Balling the Jack

My Half of the Sky is a wonderfully-crafted story that was obviously written with a piece of McBurney-Lin's heart. A masterpiece."
Lee Lofland, Author - Howdunit: Police Procedure and Investigation

My Half of the Sky heralds the arrival of a fantastic new storyteller. With artistry and precision, Jana McBurney-Lin's clear-eyed prose takes the reader on a new journey into a past world that speaks to a modern sensibility, a modern world, a modern woman. This is a book to be treasured.
Emily Rapp, Author - The Poster Child

Through vivid descriptions of sights and smells, Jana McBurney-Lin's My Half of the Sky is a haunting, emotional journey of what it means to be an honorable female in modern China. Jill Ferguson, Author - Sometimes Art Can't Save You