Big Strength in Small Packages: A Journey Through Asian Stories

shelved under Fiction and Travel & Places

I wanted to share a list of books that have helped me overcome what I consider to be the lowest point of my life.

It was not at all intentional that I seek refuge in the Japanese and Chinese characters of these novels, however one book lead to another and within a year and a half , not only was I healed but I was convinced I had to have been a Geisha in my past life!

Each of these remarkable stories are beautiful, fragile, vivid, captivating and just like a kimono — they soon became "a thing to wear" for me, as I learned from the women in these novels that with self discipline, control and patience — I, too could rise above the darkness and see the light of life again. More importantly, I learned the importance of relationships between people, those we cherish, those we take for granted and those we overestimate the value of.


Shanghai Girls

by Lisa See

Shanghai Girls is a memoir of two sisters as they escape to the United States, leaving their war-torn beloved Shanghai behind. This story focuses on the complexity between sisterhood as well as provide great historical background on China, Japan and the mistreatment of the Chinese by the American soldiers.


The Hundred Secret Senses

by Amy Tan

Olivia is a half-Chinese American-born woman whose life was not as simple as she had hoped it to be because of her heritage and upbringing. The story portrays this cultural difference as well as that hardship Olivia has with the world because of her resistance to her Chinese heritage and her older half sister Kwan, whose unconditional love for Olivia (despite Olivia's mistreatment) is incredibly touching. Kwan is the epitome of how unconditional true love really is.


The Kitchen God's Wife

by Amy Tan

This is a very special book to me. The human struggle of one extreme to the next exists throughout the novel and within the main character: Winnie. The story is her journey to the past as she tries to understand her present. The common motifs of this story are the female tolerance to the patriarchal society, and the thin line between weak and strong where most of us women are taught to let the man lead in order to guarantee our uninterrupted existence.


Geisha: A Life

by Rande Brown, Mineko Iwasaki

Reading this book was the first time I ever understood what it meant to be a Geisha. It defies every stereotypical assumptions of what a Geisha is, and instead brings the profession to the surface for the reader to understand. Choosing the path to be a Geisha was nothing more than smart business decision during a time where the only other option for girls were to get married off to someone and live a double life as a slave and a housewife. Mineko unlocks the diary of her life and with it, the emotions that she had been taught to keep bottled up at a very young age. A story so powerful that I cried when the novel ended, just because it was the end of the story!


Women Poets of China

edited by Ling Chung, Kenneth Rexroth

I'd never been fan of poetry simply because it always seemed too calculated to me. This is a book of poems written by Chinese women and nothing in it seems calculated — or finished, for that matter. The words you need in order to express that "certain feeling" that you can not, for the life of you, begin to express — are all within these pages of this book.


Memoirs of a Geisha

by Arthur Golden

Beautiful, captivating and sensual. The book is full of nature imagery which is a big part of the Japanese culture. I read this shortly after reading Mineko Iwasaki's Geisha: A Life and years after watching the movie. Memoirs... is written by an American writer, the first among the books on this list (soon followed by Any Tan below). The story is still full of colorful details and background information which Arthur Golden was able to complete after ten years of interviews with numerous geishas, including Mineko Iwasaki. The story's about Sayuri and although her relationships with men are mentioned in the story, the most significant relationships are with the women she meets throughout her life.


The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

Amy Tan is widely known for this best-selling novel about four Chinese immigrant women living in California. The story's told in four different chapters and sixteen intervened stories told by each of the main characters and their American-born and raised daughters. It's a remarkable take on the different mother and daughter relationships, as well as the complicated relationships between four lifelong best friends.