BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

The Moon Pearl by Ruthanne Lum McCunn + Author Interview [in aMagazine: Inside Asian America]

Moon PearlModern Girls

Growing up in a large, extended family in Hong Kong, Ruthanne Lum McCunn was surrounded by strong, independent women. So it’s no surprise that she has made a career writing about spirited heroes of Asian descent. The 54-year-old author of Chinese-Scottish ancestry is perhaps best known for her debut novel, Thousand Pieces of Gold (1981), based on the life of a Chinese American woman pioneer, and Pie-Biter (1983), a children’s tale about a young Chinese immigrant who helped to build the great railroads.

Her latest book. The Moon Pearl, is a fictionalized account of the brave, young women in 1830s China who refused to accept arranged marriages and vowed to live independent lives as spinsters. They were called sze-saw, or “self-combers,” because they symbolically put up their own hair in tight buns, a hairstyle traditionally combed into place by family members of a girl upon marriage. For self-combers, the matronly hairstyle symbolized a life of chosen self-reliance.

What was it about the sze-saw that inspired you?
I was inspired by their independence. In fact, to declare my own, and I left home for America and became self-supporting when I was 16. So I’d wanted to write about them for a long time. The story really came to a head for me five to 10years ago, when the media started writing about single-women adoptions and same-sex marriage, as if these desires were something very new and Western. Yet there were women in 1830s China who had successfully achieved such lives through independent spinsterhood, a tradition that continued for over a hundred years. That’s what got me to start The Moon Pearl. …[click here for more]

Author interview“Modern Girls,” aMagazine: Inside Asian America, October/November 2000

Tidbits: You might say that McCunn is the whole reason that this blog ever got started! See “About this blog …” for more on that! Additionally, McCunn was a delightful guest, together with Jeannie Pfaelzer and Jack Tchen, for the Smithsonian APA Program’s literary event, “The Chinese American Experience – and Those Who Survived and Thrived to Tell the Tales,” on October 12, 2007.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2000


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