19 May / Grandma Lives in a Perfume Village by Fang Suzhen, illustrated by Sonja Danowski, translated by Huang Xiumin
Xiao Le – whose name means “little joy” –hasn’t seen his grandmother in “a long time.” When his mother announces an impending visit, Xiao Le is happy at the thought of riding a train, and the chance to share his toy truck with his grandmother. When mother and son arrive at Grandma’s house, they’re greeted by a caring neighbor; Grandma is not well …
While his mother hustles and bustles between cooking and doing the laundry for her ailing mother, Xiao Le gets to know Grandma again. He helps her to drink (by calling his mother), and take her pills (aided by his mother). And, most importantly, he makes Grandma smile. They sit out in the sun to play a game as they share tea and biscuits. Both Grandma and Xiao Le announce their happiness at being together.
When the day draws to an end, Xiao Le and his mother return home. Too soon, Xiao Le’s mother gently reveals, “Grandma has left Perfume Village and moved into heaven.” As his mother grieves, Xiao Le’s innocent, earnest caring, his imaginative understanding of what has happened, is a priceless gift: “‘Look, Mom, Grandma has turned on the light!’” he reminds her as the moon rises, “‘It’s evening in heaven, too.’” Although Mom can no longer hug her own mother, Xiao Le is but an arm’s length away, ready with the “little joy” that he always is.
Writer Fang Suzhen is one of Taiwan’s more prolific and award-winning authors; her latest here is a moving, effective story about loss and recovery. What stands out most, however, are the magnificent illustrations by German artist Sonja Danowski: Xiao Le couldn’t be sweeter as he shares his favorite toy with Grandma or drapes himself over his mother’s shoulder; his surroundings couldn’t be more inviting with exquisite details from textured fabrics to potted plants in various stages of bloom; the emotions couldn’t be more resonating from Grandma’s elderly exhaustion to Mom’s grieving attempts to hide her tears.
Through Danowski’s stupendous art, Xiao Le again and again lives up to his name: he offers his “little joy” to Grandma before her death, and provides the “little joy” that comforts his mother – he is the joy-filled connector between this life and the next. For children – and us old folks, too – facing the loss of beloved family and friends, Fang and Danowski’s Xiao Le proves to be an ideal messenger of caring and sharing.