Beautiful as Yesterday by Fan Wu
Told in the three alternating voices of a Chinese mother and her two Chinese American daughters, Fan Wu‘s second novel weaves a family tapestry filled with the multiple layers of intermixed cultures and generations.
Mary, once Guo-Mei, now lives comfortably in Silicon Valley with her American-born Chinese husband and their young son. She has a secure job thanks to her graduate UC Berkeley chemistry degree, even if she won’t kiss up to her erratic boss. Her supportive girlfriends, together with their larger church congregation, keep her emotionally and spiritually buoyed.
Having made her younger sister’s American college education possible, Mary feels wholly responsible for Ingrid-no-longer Guo-Ying. An accountant by training, Ingrid sees life as a free-spirited adventure when she finally escapes her sister’s watchful eye (and controlling words) and heads to New York City. She translates and tour guides to pay her bills, and thinks she might actually like to be a writer.
The sisters are reunited in California when Fenglan, their recently widowed mother, arrives from China on an extended visit with Mary and her family. Wu intertwines China’s tumultuous recent history into Fenglan’s memories, and offers glimpses of the astonishing changes of 21st-century China through the aging Fenglan’s bewildered eyes. Leaving all that is familiar and integrating herself into a new life without benefit of language or community prove understandably difficult. While Mary – and very quickly her young son – insist Fenglan should live with them always, Fenglan is sure she wants to return home, even if she has to be alone.
Wu adroitly explores the immigration challenges of multiple generations, capturing the dissonance of adjustment at such different stages of people’s lives … and shows that immigration is no longer a one-way journey in our ever-shrinking world.