For those of you who love Asian-themed literature, you must read, “My Half of the Sky” by Jana McBurney-Lin. published in the US in 2006 (Komenar Publishing). This 533-page debut novel recieved not only rave reviews but several awards and distinctions. The title was chosen as a Booksense Pick of the Month in 2006 (only two books ARE chosen across the US each month), A Forbes Book Club Pick, Byline Magazine 2007 Fiction Winner, Benjamin Franklin Award for Popular Fiction (Finalist), and many more.
The late leader of China, Chairman Mao Ze Dong, is famous for saying, "Women hold up half the sky." My Half of the Sky is the story of a contemporary Chinese woman who tries to do just that. The story covers a few months in the day-to-day life of the heroine Li Hui, a Xiamen University graduate who lives with her parents in a small village near the Fujian capital. Due to her Father’s rejection of the job Li Hui gets from the Ministry of Education, she is left without any prospects of finding a teaching position in China. Her tyrannical father is an alcoholic gambler, forever angry that he does not have a son. Nevertheless, Li Hui accepts her duty as a filial daughter, just like a filial son would, to look after her parents’ financial situation. Each time she thinks she can actually hold her small fragment of the sky, her father’s irresponsible behaviour renders her efforts futile.
Arguably, no book about a young, beautiful woman would ever be complete without a romance. Li Hui falls in love, too, but it only makes her more miserable. Her parents have already found through a matchmaker a different man for her in Singapore. This is where the story gets even more interesting for us living in Singapore as we follow Li Hui all the way from China to the Lion City. Resigned to her fate as A pawn while everybody else is plotting her life, Li Hui tries, against mounting odds, to be a filial daughter and a good wife. Life has its surprises, though, and nothing goes as planned.
Jana and her family live in California where she served as President of the California Writers Club Peninsula Branch for five years. She also founded Kids’ Camp, an annual conference for young writers. In case you wonder what gave Jana such good grounding in modern-day Asian matters let me point out that she also lived in Japan and Singapore for 15 years. During the six years she spent in Japan she worked as an editor for ALC Press in Tokyo. Then in 1991 she moved with her Fujian-born husband and young children to Singapore for eight years. While in Singapore Jana freelanced for airline magazines, the Straits Times, NTU newsletter, The Mandarin Magazine, just to name a few. While in Singapore, she also came up with the idea for writing My Half of the Sky. One year when Jana and her family were visiting China--as they do on an annual basis--she spotted an advertisement on the side of someone's house. The picture showed a couple smiling over a baby. The characters beneath read, "A girl baby is as precious as a boy baby." Jana turned to her husband and said, "That is so cool that the government is behind the valuing of little girls." He just shook his head and said, "The government can say what they like, but a house with no male is a real problem." That is when Jana thought, "Aha. Now there's a story." What if a girl baby was born into a householod and managed to survive? How would she continue to thrive and suceed in a society where the rules are against her? Thus started Jana's journey into fiction writing, a journey which took 12 years. If at this point you are still wondering why read Jana McBurney-Lin’s novel when there are so many similar-themed books on the market, let me say more.
It is a rare women’s novel that sensitively describes the life of a young educated woman in modern-day China in its full complexity, without resorting to unnecessary sentimentalism. Jana’s deep knowledge of the realities of life in China and Singapore makes the reading extra rewarding. In fact, with every new page the novel gets harder to put down and you find yourself gobbling it up before you know it. Finally, the author has given a voice to the Li Hui in all of us, as we struggle for the golden middle between tradition and the modern momentum of our world.