Monday, August 31, 2009

Loving a Summer Filled with Three-shower-a-day Heat

This past weekend, it was so miserably hot here in California--sweat-trickling-down-your legs hot, mind-numbing hot, three-shower-a-day hot-that my son was reminded of China...although China was more humid. Visiting friends and relatives in China/Japan was where we spent our summer.
China was so dynamic—one day always felt like two...or three. (And that wasn't just because we had sun-induced naps during the day). We always saw something different: neon kites flying like UFOs in the sky or barges piled high with salt floating down the river or a bag of frogs for sale in the wet market or spittoons at the edge of the public pool. We also managed to catch the Solar Eclipse in Hangzhou on July 22, an event that will not occur in that part of the world again during my lifetime.
(A solar eclipse occurs when the moon moves in front of the sun. The sun is 400 times larger than the moon, but also 400 times as far away. So when the moon gets in the sun's path, which it does somewhere on the earth once every six months, it has the effect of blocking out the sun.)
It was amazing to have the whole world go dark—and all the sensor-powered street lights come on. In ancient times, people believed a dragon was eating the sun, and they beat drums and made all kinds of noise to try to scare the dragon away. In modern times, we all watched the event through sunglasses or black-and-white film (one person even watched through an X-ray of somebody's broken arm). When the world went dark, everyone gave a collective awe-inspired, “Ahh.” Then someone lit off fireworks. Five minutes later, the sun began its reappearance, and everyone dispersed. My kids poked me with their parasols. 'Let's go, Mom. We don't have to wait for the total re-emergence of the sun. Besides, it's hot.” That last part was definitely true.

Books of the Week:
Rooftops of Tehran
Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbod Seraji: This was a beautifully-told story of how the governments (including ours) wormed their way into the hearts and minds of small villagers in Tehran. How the Powers ruined everything. Everything. A great read.

No Place to Run by Thomas Sawyer: I love literary fiction, which this is not. But given that Mr. Sawyer worked for decades in television (headwriter for Murder, She Wrote), I can see where his style emerges. The story, which centers on a cover-up of the 9/11 disaster, is an all-night read. What a ride!

The Memory-Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards: This book came out the same month as My Half of the Sky. I meant to pick it up, but then kept confusing it with other titles-- Gravedigger's Daughter, Hummingbird's Daughter, etc. The title just didn't stick with me. Fortunately, I saw it in the library the other day and picked up a copy. Oh, what a treasure. With each character, I feel as if I'm walking in his/her shoes. The plot is heart-wrenching: A doctor delivers his wife's twins, one of whom is born with Down's Syndrome. He makes the quick decision to give the DS child away, telling his wife that the child died--a hasty action which has repercussions that keep coming and coming and coming. I haven't yet finished the book because I don't want to. I want to savor each word, each turn of phrase. It's a title I won't soon forget.

Upcoming Event: US-China Friendship 60/30 National Convention in San Francisco
Saturday, September 5, 9:45-10:45: Filmmaker Rae Chang will show her documentary on the life of Qui Jin, China's first feminist. From 10:45 I'll be discussing My Half of the Sky. The two of us will then lead a discussion on women's rights in China and the ongoing struggle of women caught between tradition and modernity. Please join us.

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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