From the Publisher
“One of the funniest and most moving love stories to come around in a long time.”—Library Journal
“A poignant, witty look at cultural misunderstandings, the intimacies of marriage, and the deep bonds of human connection.”—Gail Tsukiyama, author of The Samurai's Garden
“A compelling read for anyone with an interest in the nuts and bolts of how to keep a marriage together.”—Times Union
“A delightful account of East meets West in a loving relationship, complete with inevitable culture clashes resulting from wildly different ethnicities, customs, and background experiences. This appealing, true tale of adaptation (an ongoing process required in any marriage but taken here to extremes) is infused with an unforced sweetness and offers heartfelt and authentic proof of what we do for love.”—Booklist
“Ellen Graf and her husband, Lu Zhong-hua, take the realm of marriage and spin it on an irresistible new axis. Quite simply the greatest love story I’ve ever read.”—Aimee Liu, author of Cloud Mountain
A debut author examines the unusual union with her husband. After a divorce and little success with personal ads, 46-year-old Graf began to feel an overwhelming loneliness. When her Chinese neighbor suggested that she meet her similarly lonely brother, Graf set off to China. Though she describes herself as "an anxious person and not eager to trust," the author married Zhong-hua a few weeks after meeting him. "We shared the implicit trust of mountain climbers," she writes, "based solely on the certainty that the other will not purposely let you fall." This stoic pragmatism helped Graf endure an 18-month waiting period before her husband could move to America, another 18 months before his adolescent daughter could join them, and, finally, Zhong-hua's bout with cancer. The culture shock each has endured-expressed in Graf's vivid though gnarled prose-is mind-boggling. When her husband bumped into her one day, the author was surprised that he didn't offer an apology or even an "excuse me." She soon learned, however, that apologies of any kind would not be forthcoming because in China there is no distinction between oneself and one's mate. As for Zhong-hua, the surgery he underwent for his cancer was not only strange and foreign but antithetical to the teachings of his beloved Tai Chi and Qigong. The lengthy transcriptions of the couple's dialogue often slows the narrative pace, and though Graf offers occasionally insightful commentary on the danger of cultural assumptions, the many unanswered questions make for a frustrating read. A middling memoir of romantic and spiritual exploration.
Read an Excerpt
In China, my husband had never driven a car. He was sure he could learn in two hours. He owned a big a motorcycle in China. How different could it be?
I soon discovered that the solid centerlines had no significance to him. The lanes held no association to restricted sideways movement. Country drivers in big-wheeled pick-up trucks sped up and skimmed past us, shouting obscenities. I instructed Zhong-Hua in the basics, that the person on the main road had right-of-way and that a red light meant stop until the light changed to green.
“I don’t think so.”
“What do you mean, you don’t think so? Red means don’t go. You have to wait, that’s the law.”
“In China, who can go, just go. Is okay. Big road, small road, left turn, right turn—this doesn’t matter. Just watch, see, look at. Okay—go. Not okay—not go. Also, people drive on any side of the road. Which side open, which side drive.”
“Watch out! Stay in your lane, stay in your lane!”
“Another driver say ‘asshole.’ What is asshole?”
“It means he’s mad. Get over, get over!”
I was gasping and holding onto the ceiling, my feet braced against the dash. My husband sighed and said I “must be” ride in the back seat because I was making him nervous and this was “very danger.” I wasn’t in the habit of drinking alcohol, but for several weeks, as soon as we returned home alive from a driving excursion, I sedated myself with Chinese wine, the kind that numbs your mouth like Novocain for a full hour.
One day my husband turned left from the right-hand lane, cutting off a Lincoln Continental. Brakes screamed, and Zhong-Hua was looking right into the quivering jowls of the red-faced driver. The man stuck his whole face out the window and sputtered, “You almost killed us!”
“I said you almost killed us, buddy. Do you hear?”
“What do you have to say when I say you almost killed us?”
“Thank you very much!”
“I’m yelling at you. Why do you say thank you?”
“I don’t know. I just think, thank you.”
“Okay, you’re welcome.” The guy pulled his face back. Zhong-Hua waved and thanked him again.