Leaving Mother Lake:
a Girlhood at the Edge of the World

by Yang Erche Namu & Christine Mathieu

Little Brown, 2003. ISBN 0316124710.
Reviewed by Judith Helburn
Posted on 01/09/2004

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Cultural/Gender Focus

A remarkable book. A remarkable childhood. A remarkable culture. Did you know that there really is a culture where the women are in charge? A culture where the whole family lives together and only the mature women have their own bedroom into which they invite any male they fancy and for only as long as they desire? The men may spend the night; however their responsibility is to their mother. This culture, as in so many indigenous cultures, is fading as modernity reaches into the mountains of China and the younger generation of the Moso people learn about the rest of the world.

Namu grew up in the mountains of China near Tibet in such a family. Yet she did not follow tradition. It seems she rebelled from birth, first crying continuously, then not lighting the fire in her room for suitors, and then having the opportunity to travel to the city, where she sang the Moso songs. After her brief encounter with the modern world, she left home again to attend a school for the arts and became a well-known singer.

Her mother (her Ama) rows her out to the middle of a lake to teach her the "flirting" songs and,

"...I realized that my Ama was no longer singing for me but for the lovers of her youth. I finally dared look at her. There was such tenderness in her face, such joy and she looked so beautiful, radiant. I felt awed..."

But Namu can not wait to get on with the journey across the lake and into her new life. Leaving Mother Lake is a tale of a young rebellious girl who leaves and, after maturity, sees the magic and the value of her disapearing culture.

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