24 Aug / Hao: Stories by Ye Chun [in Booklist]
Bilingual Chinese American writer, poet, and translator Ye Chun showcases her linguistic prowess in a prodigious debut collection featuring women on both sides of the globe, many defined and confined by and reliant on motherhood. The titular “hao” recurs, meaning “Good, yes, okay. The most common word in Chinese”; its character is comprised of “a kneeling person with breasts, a woman … holding a child.” That iconic mother-and-child scene reveals multiple layers here.
In the story “Hao,” a mother struggles to stay alive for her 4-year-old during the vicious Cultural Revolution. They play their nightly “word game,” during which the mother traces characters on her daughter’s back, literally inscribing her with precious knowledge. Repeatedly beaten down, she becomes the kneeling woman, wrapped around her child; to live another day to hold her is hao.
In “Stars,” a stroke silences a doctoral student (and mother) except for a single word, again “hao.” In “Milk,” the image of a homeless woman desperately nursing her child haunts a mother trying to wean her toddler on the other side of the world. Two exemplary multigenerational stories are linked by an illiterate, silenced mother-then-grandmother who draws to express herself. The long-ago invention of pictographic language drives “Signs,” featuring the Yellow Emperor’s four-eyed record-keeper, Cangjie.
Each of Ye’s dozen stories astounds.
Review: “Fiction,” Booklist, August 2021