|Discussing Stories that Must be Told|
|Smiling with the Board of APHAFIC|
Notes and comments by author Jana McBurney-Lin.
0-9772081-1-7 (Hardcover - 07/2006)
978-0-9772081-7-3 (Trade Paperback - 07/2008)
B002VBWF18 650KB (Kindle Ebook Edition - 11/2009)
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
How did you get the idea for My Half of the Sky?
My husband is from southern China. One year, when we went back to his village to visit family, I saw a large poster on the side of a house. The poster portrayed a couple holding a child. Underneath the happy couple were the words, "A girl baby is just as important as a boy baby."
"That's so cool," I said. "That the government is behind the valuing of little girls."
He just shook his head. "The government can say what it wants," he said. "But a house with no male is a problem."
Aha. Now there was a story. What if a little girl was born into a household and managed to survive? How would she continue to thrive? To succeed in a place where the traditions were so against her? That was the beginning of My Half of the Sky.
Are your characters based on real people?
My gut instinct is to say, "Yes, of course." I've lived with these characters so long--twelve years-- they feel like old friends. Family. But the truth is they are all figments of my imagination.
How did you do your research for this book?
My husband and I lived quite a while--eight years--in Singapore. Over the years, he has not only told me a lot about the village. His parents, who lived with us while we were in Singapore, told us a lot about the village. And we visited--and continue to visit--as often as possible. In fact, the cover photo for My Half of the Sky was taken from my brother-in-law's house.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
No. Not consciously. When I graduated from college, I had dreams of being some hotshot businesswoman. Granted, my major was in Communications, with a minor in Jajpanese. But, still, business was hot then with Japan. I figured if I went off to Japan for a year and honed my language skills, I'd be on everyone's "want to hire" list. Then I got to Japan. I not only realized it takes a great deal longer than a year to hone the language, but that I was more interested in the culture than in business. One time, I was asked to teach English to a group of secretaries from the National Diet (the US version of Congress, only larger). These secretaries mentioned that they worked for the only woman in the Diet. The only woman? I wanted to meet this woman. How had she gotten there? What was it like being surrounded by all that maleness every day?
When I interviewed her, I discovered that the woman had no problem with her colleagues except when she had to go to the bathroom. At the time, the Diet building had only men's bathrooms. So, her male secretaries would have to scout out the bathroom first to ensure the coast was clear. This was in 1986. I was so fascinated by this woman that I wanted everyone to know about her. That was my first magazine article. My first step into the writing world. And I was hooked.
This book is about China? How can Americans--and other cultures-- relate?
We all grow up with stories in our heads. Stories about the way things should be. And it's important to have stories. Important until the stories restrict forward movement.
As an example, when we moved to the US seven years ago, we had very little furniture. We had brought a couple of pieces with us from Singapore. But, in particular, we had no beds. I remembered that my great-great grandfather had built a wooden bed which was in storage in my mother's garage. I asked her if we could use that bed--it was beautifully made and so meaningful.
"No," she said. "That's your brother's bed."
Well, my brother lives in Germany. How could it be his bed? According to family tradition, she explained, the bed was to be passed down through the male lineage Never mind that I was in arm's length of the bed and actually needed a place to rest my head. And that was a story passed on by my not-very-traditional mother. Where we reconcile past traditions with the forward momentum of the globe is a struggle we deal with each day. All of us. So, I think we can all get something from Li Hui and her struggle.
Are you writing a sequel?
Yes. I started in the fall of 2006. I'm about halfway through.
Interested in reading My Half of the Sky for your next book club choice?
1. In the first chapter, Li Hui stands in line at the post office to use the phone behind Orange-haired Aunty who wore expensive perfume. Li Hui is thrilled to be behind this woman and to sniff her air. However, after she speaks on the phone with her father, she can't get out of the post office fast enough. The expensive perfume smells like a gas leak.
Why is there a shift in Li Hui's appreciation of the things money can buy? How is this scene a metaphor for what later happens to Li Hui?
2. When Li Hui goes to dinner with Chan Hai she gets all turned around, feels lost. Chan Hai points out where they are and says, "It's amazing how all of us can be so close to something and not see it."
How is this phenomenon reflected in Li Hui's relationship with her father? Chan Hai? Husband? Does Li Hui ever learn to see?
3. Waipo often told Li Hui a story about the dragon who came to the village, and how a smart little girl scared the dragon away with firecrackers.
What are Li Hui's dragons? Does she ever find firecrackers?
4. Is Crazy Lee Sa really crazy? Why is she viewed this way? What characteristics do Crazy Lee Sa and Madame Tsui Ping have in common?
5. Li Hui is claustrophobic--has a fear of riding in elevators ("moving boxes.")
In what way is her life like a moving box? Does she ever get over her claustrophobia? How?
6. What happens to Li Hui in the end? What will become of her?
7. While this story takes place in China/Singapore, what aspects--if any--can you relate to?