It’s been a long time since I’ve been as emotionally invested in a book as I was in Cara Chow’s Bitter Melon.
It’s a difficult story of a Chinese-American mother and daughter living in San Francisco, yet it could be about any family where the parents do not allow their children to fly free, to find a life that will give the child joy and satisfaction. It’s about caging the soul of a beautiful mind as a battle ensues to find the sweet taste of freedom.
There are jewels of truth, of humanity, of hope and of sorrow glittering throughout this lovely book. Regardless of what touches your heart when you read, it will be found in Bitter Melon, including a beautifully-crafted story, realistic characters, a plethora of emotions, finely-tuned language.
Fei Ting, the daughter, holds two names. Fei in Chinese means fly. Ting means stop. Fei Ting tinkered with the meaning of her name, its nuances.
In Chinese, she thought, if she should try to fly, she would be stopped.
Her English name Frances means freedom. Fei Ting wants freedom, wants to soar with nothing holding her back but is held in emotional bondage to her mother. Her mother’s controls were built methodically, mooring every move and choice Francis sought to her angry mother’s dream of wealth and success via her own daughter’s efforts to satisfy her insatiable mother.
You will makes lots of money and buy us a nice house so I can quit my job and tell your father’s family to go to hell.
Frances hears such phrases over and over from her mother’s harsh lips, as if she is being beaten into submission with the strength of words,
You will become a doctor. You will support me, care for me.
Francis has always been the obedient daughter, bending to her mother’s will, to her wishes.
Imagine living the first eighteen years of your life fed by a vitriolic and hateful analysis of your qualities by your own mother. You’re not smart enough. You’re not pretty. You’re too fat. You’re ungrateful.