Golden Mountain
by Irene Kai

Silver Light Pubs, 2004. ISBN 097448900X.
Reviewed by Judith Helburn
Posted on 06/01/2004

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Cultural/Gender Focus; Nonfiction: Relationships

Irene Kai writes of her struggle to escape boundaries imposed upon her by her Chinese family while the words of her grandmother to be a dutiful daughter and wife haunt her throughout her journey. She writes of her great grandmother, her grandmother and her mother using the creative non-fiction device of imagined conversations.These conversations draw one immediately into the life of 19th and 20th century rural China, then, Hong Kong and New York. I particularly enjoy reading of overlapping time frames from the points of view of different people, and Kai does it well.

A child of a loveless arranged marriage, she is unwanted, unloved and abused physically and psychologically by her mother, who is struggling to find love. Kai's background material is especially important in helping us understand her mother and to understand Kai's radical rebellion in her teen and young adult years. She sweeps us into her wild, tumultuous exploration of art and sexuality. And when the rebellion is over, she becomes the dutiful wife, driven by her husband and her desire to leave behind all of her Chinese past. In doing so, she finally realizes that she, too, is neglecting her children, just as her mother did. Slowly, slowly, as she begins to discover herself, she finds the strength to leave her lavish life style and become attentive to her children and to her own needs. She reclaims parts of her own culture and becomes whole.

Especially poignant is Kai's struggle to balance her desire to always please her wounded mother with her need to protect herself and her children. The moment of courage when she looks into her mother's eyes and takes charge of her own life must ring as true for many other women as it did for me.

I would love to know more about this woman. Has she continued her art? How does she feel now? When she looks back, what are her feelings? Now that she has written this fascinating autobiography, will she let us into her life again?

Golden Mountain is an uplifting read.

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