Shirley Geok-lin Lim's memoir is a courageously frank and deeply affecting account of a Malaysian girlhood and of the making of an Asian-American woman. With insight, candor, and grace, Lim lays bare the material poverty and family violence of her childhood in colonized Malaysia after her father's business fails and her mother abandons the family, leaving Shirley to travel the road toward womanhood alone. Her struggles to fashion a meaningful life that will include professional achievement and a self-determined sexuality inflect her journey across and through cultural, political, and geographic borders. Throughout this extraordinary multi-cultural journey, Lim is sustained by her "warrior" spirit. Very gradually, and often painfully, she moves from a numbing alienation as a dislocated Asian woman to a new sense of identity as an Asian-American woman: professor, wife, mother of a son she is determined to raise as American, and, above all, impassioned writer.
Lim's autobiography certainly qualifies for a place in Feminist Press's Cross-Cultural Memoir Series. Her father, a devotee of Western movies, named her Shirley (for her dimples, he said); the convent school sisters gave her the names Agnes and Jennifer; while Geok or "Jade" was assigned by her grandfather to all the female children, "a name intended to humble, to make a child common." Born in 1944 during the Japanese occupation of Malaysia, Lim was the only girl in a family of five boys. For her, academics represented a way to distinguish herself and earn her father's love. Her mother deserted the family when she was eight, leaving Lim increasingly rebellious and determined to escape. And she succeeded: Scholarship to the University of Malaysia was followed by a Fulbright to Brandeis, and finally an academic career and family in America. She's a sharp, even harsh commentator with a vivid memory for slights. But she's also tough with herself, with her acquiescence to her father's wishes, to a lover's manipulation, to a professor's appropriation of her thesis. She also ponders her inability to reconcile her sympathy with her Puerto Rican students and her resentment of her Puerto Rican neighbors in Brooklyn. The first woman and the first Asian to win the Commonwealth Prize for her book of poetry, Crossing the Peninsula, Lim's descriptions are both lyrical and precise whether they are of the heat, bougainvillea and crowds of her home in Malacca or the wintery climate, the packaged food, the self-conscious bohemianism of New England. Photos not seen by PW. (Aug.)
In this autobiography of her wild and impoverished Malayan childhood and eventual emigration to America, critic and theorist Lim (Reading the Literature of Asian Americans, LJ 1/93) uses the same gender and ethnic issues discussed in her critical appraisals to delineate her "two lives." She describes the Third World poverty of her Chinese minority family, "the cultural imperialism of British colonial education," Chinese patriarchy and ambition, disappoinments in Malayan home rule, and the isolation of Asian graduate students in America. She offers both flattering and unflattering glimpses of American life as seen through immigrant eyes. Like many successful immigrants, Lim is a survivor with hard-won success. After years of struggle, she has gained prominence in the growing field of Asian American literature. Her revealing self-portrait is recommended for academic libraries and Asian American collections.-Margaret W. Norton, J. Sterling Morton H.S., West Berwyn, Ill.
Poet Lim's memoir describes her childhood in Malaysia, the post- colonial days of her university youth, and her eventual migration to the United States. In this cultural document of both the US and Malaysia, her poetic mastery makes the tale vivid by its evocative language and attention to emotional detail, somewhat mitigating the often characteristic triteness of immigrant stories, particularly ones like this that rely heavily on feminist and psychological ideologies. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)