Catherine Lim's controversial 1997 novel The Bondmaid introduced American readers to the exciting voice of Singapore's best-selling author. LIm's compelling novels fuse the elegance of Amy Tan with the authenticity of Jung Chang, creating a fascinating world with characters whose lives are determined by a heady mix of love, class, destiny, and the machinations of the gods.
The Teardrop Story woman is Mei Kwei, born in Malaya in 1934 and doubly cursed -- not only is she female, she also has a tiny teardrop mole in the corner of one eye: a sign of bad luck that presages disaster. Fate proves kinder to Mei Kwei who inherits her grandmother's extraordinary good looks and gift for storytelling. As she grows up, Mei Kwei must cope with the attention of the men who begin to encircle her, attracted by the intensity of her beauty and by her spirit. She runs from these men to a man who cannot love her back -- the charismatic Father Martin, a French Catholic missionary -- and the demands of the flesh and the s pirit come into fearful collision. Set in Malaya in the turbulent 1950s, this is an irresistible story of passion and obligation where no one is safe, least of all those watched by jealous men or exacting gods.
|Publisher:||Cavendish, Marshall Corporation|
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Catherine Lim's elegant and flowery flow of language is what I love of her books. She goes into rich, elaborate details and paints a vibrant picture of Malaya of the old days. Her stories never fail to weave in a subtle commentary on the society, religion and customs, and her characters are refreshingly realistic and thankfully imperfect. They all have their selfish, cruel and self-centered sides as they battle with their inner demons - in other words, they are human, not crafted to please the public. The only complaint is of the relationship between Mei Kwei and Father Martin, which was somewhat...flat. They had no chemistry whatsoever. Frankly, I preferred the husband she did not love - the wealthy but melancholy Austin Tong. Father Martin's wishy-washiness in matters of the heart annoyed me thoroughly. But that's subjective, I suppose. Fortunately, the book is more than saved by Catherine Lim's smooth, elegant prose.
With The Teardop Story Woman, a starkly vivid canvas of 1934 Malayan life, Catherine Lim has produced an affecting yet chilling tale. Her richly embroidered glimpses into a hitherto little known culture fascinate, that society's misogynism appalls. This unlikely mix has resulted in an absorbing, substantive novel. While Mei Kwei, the heroine, is predictably beautiful, and Father Francois Martin, the hero, is predictably unavailable, the munificence of telling detail and artfully rendered description transcend a slender plot line. Damned into the world from the day of her birth because of a 'despised slit between the tiny, quivering legs instead of the prized curl of flesh.' Mei Kwei might have been bartered for whiskey, coffee powder, and cotton cloth had it not been for the intervention of Big Older Brother who screamed his protest. Three years her senior, he feeds her tidbits from his bowl, protects her from neighboring bullies, and later comes to her bed promising not to hurt her for he 'knew the precise limits of his lust; she would still be passed on intact to her husband.' Detested by her father and ignored by her mother, Mei Kwei turns to Second Grandmother, a former concubine with tiny bound feet who wears shoes the size of a doll's. The aged woman comforts Mei Kwei with stories, transporting the child into a privileged world she can scarcely imagine - sharp contrast to their impoverished existence. Thankfully, the young girl is almost preternaturally resilient, markedly resourceful, 'Learning from an early age that females were a dependent class, living on surplus, she first grew timid, then canny....' She also longs for an education, gazing with hungry eyes through classroom windows. Impressed by Mei Kwei's intellectual promise, Sister St. Elizabeth persuades the girl's father, Ah Oon Koh, to let the child attend school. Mei Kwei's happiness in learning is short lived as the opium addicted Ah Oon Koh's soon becomes infuriated by his daughter's exposure to a foreign culture, her growing familiarity with a repugnant tongue. After he physically takes her from St. Margaret's convent school, a disheartened Mei Kwei burns her treasured exercise books. At her family's behest Mei Kwei agrees to see Old Yoong, one of the wealthiest men in Penang, who delights in exploring her face with his 'hot dry mouth.' But Mei Kwei is unable to tolerate the older man's attentions. Eventually, she accepts the proposal of Austin Tong, a Catholic convert and wealthy restauranteur. In return for her promise of marriage Austin lavishes her family with gifts and employs the irresponsible Big Older Brother. As Austin's wife she is able to care for her family, yet she continues to dream of the white missionary, Father Martin. She has made her bargain, but learns there is an even higher price to pay. Yet, it is a price that brings Father Martin back into her life one last time. Vivid scenes of life in Luping, Malaya some sixty years ago, such as women shearing their hair then binding their breasts to discourage marauding Japanese soldiers, the presenting of offerings - oranges and joss-sticks - to placate the Kek Lok temple gods, aromas of herbals teas, and odors of the marketplace are all presented in such lucid detail that scenes spring to vibrant life. Catherine Lim paints remarkable word pictures. Her portraits of the Tick Tock man, 'a Chinese itinerant hawker pushing his food cart with one hand and knocking wooden clappers with the other,' and Pig Auntie who raised swine yet 'took great care to keep her fine eyebrows plucked into two delicate arches' are noteworthy. Placed against the backdrop of clashing cultures and mixed blood, all of Ms. Lim's characters enhance her fastidiously etched Malayan mural. The Teardrop Story Woman offers an artful view of another time in an intriguingly distant place.