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Feb. 14 is usually the day when those not in a relationship are relentlessly reminded of that fact. Hearts, roses and chocolates attack from all sides. Singletons arm themselves with rented movies and pints of Ben and Jerry's to defend against the onslaught. But this year, Feb. 14 is also Chinese New Year. Plump, little Cupid had better flap his wings as fast as he can, because it's the Year of the Tiger, and tigers don't eat chocolate.
Actually, Valentine's Day and Chinese New Year have more in common than you might think. The color red, for instance, symbolizes both love on V-Day and luck on Chinese New Year. Both days also hold the hope of new beginnings in love and in life. To commemorate this rare alignment of the calendar, here are three books about Chinese families who not only possess powerful love, but who also begin anew.
Disappearing Moon Cafe
Torrid passions, secrets and lies envelop the Wong family in Sky Lee's surprising and alluring novel Disappearing Moon Cafe. Kae Ying Woo, the narrator of this tale, delves into her family's tangled past and discovers the truth behind her aunt Suzanne's death: suicide over a star-crossed love. Hidden family ties have led to accidental incest, and Kae finds out that many of her relatives throughout her family tree have tasted the bitter fruit of a love forbidden. Her discoveries help Kae find the will to set off on a new course and rekindle a past romance of her own. The loves in this book are as fleeting and transient as the disappearing moon of the title, yet they leave a permanent longing in each lover's heart.
The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts
Of course, there are some loves that could stand to be a bit more fleeting, like the love between the mother and daughter in Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. By sharing stories about life in her native China, this mother has created a world of "ghosts" that haunt her daughter with their violence and strangeness. These histories make living life as a conventional American girl feel impossible. Yet, even though the daughter complains nonstop about her mother's constant "talk-stories," it is obvious that she loves her. Through this phantasmagorical book about her childhood, Kingston sheds light on her own ghosts, rendering them powerless. She also reaches out a hand of forgiveness and love to her mother, a woman warrior in her own right.
The Good Earth
Sometimes the greatest stories about love are ones of missed opportunity. This is the case in Pearl S. Buck's novel The Good Earth. An American who spent most of her life in China, Buck shares with her protagonist — a poor farmer named Wang Lung — a deep love of her adopted homeland. In Wang Lung's case, his love for his land overshadows love for his wife. O-Lan is no beauty but works hard and brings prosperity to Wang Lung's house. Their chance for a new beginning comes partially owed to O-Lan's resourcefulness and wisdom, but he still does not love her. Old lessons do not root easily as Wang Lung betrays O-Lan for another. In the end, only his love for land remains, though planted with seeds of bitter regret.
This Feb. 14, everyone — single or attached — can celebrate. Whatever your status, these three roaring good reads, with their lessons of strength, forgiveness and gratitude, are a great way to start off the Year of the Tiger.
Stacy Saunders is an English teacher and freelance writer. She blogs about her favorite books at 111books.blogspot.com.
Three Books ... is produced and edited by Ellen Silva and Bridget Bentz.