A long time ago, a blogger (I think it was The Poet’s Wife, but it looks like her blog doesn’t exist any longer) recommended a memoir to me, and I bought the book, intending to read it right away. Instead, I misplaced the book. The other day I discovered the book had slipped behind some others on the shelf, so I finally read it: Pang-Mei Natasha Chang’s Bound Feet and Western Dress.
If you remember my review of Helen Fremont’s After Long Silence, you know that Fremont’s book was billed as a memoir, but focused more on a recreation of the lives of her parents during the Holocaust. Of course, there was some memoir story about Fremont’s own life, including how she and her sister put the pieces of the secret story together. Chang’s book goes a step further. While the book cover calls this a dual memoir–that of the author and her Great Aunt Yu-i–to me this is more the memoir of Yu-i as verbally told and recreated on the page by her younger relative. It is mainly Yu-i’s story. And what a story it is.
She was born at the very beginning of the 20th century in China. Times were changing rapidly. During the course of Yu-i’s life, she must learn how to become a more “Western” woman and still show respect for her elders and her heritage by adhering to the traditions that were most important. Yu-i was the first woman in her family not to have her feet bound, and yet when she was married by her family to a man she didn’t know, she acted very traditional, as if she had bound feet.
When he divorces her, she must learn to take care of herself and her responsibilities. She describes the change in herself this way:
I always think of my life as “before Germany” and “after Germany.” Before Germany, I was afraid of everything. After Germany, I was afraid of nothing.
Yu-i’s story is a triumph of admirable traits, resilience, and a loving family.
And who is this man who divorced her? Hsu Chih-mo, arguably the most famous Chinese poet of his time period. Check out this Wikipedia link about him. Why did he divorce her? What happened to her after the divorce? Read. the. book.