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Saturday, August 24, 2013

The 228 Legacy by Jennifer J. Chow

The 228 Legacy is set in the 1980's, one of several books I've read lately in the 70's or 80's.  In this case, the story focuses on three members of a family of Taiwanese descent:  Silk, the grandmother, born in Taiwan; Lisa, the daughter, born in America; and Lisa's daughter, Abbey.

Learning about things I didn't know is one of my chief pleasures in reading.  Not that what I learn is always pleasant, but sometimes it is important.  In this case, I had never heard of the 228 Massacre in Taiwan, a terrible event in which the Kuomintang killed between 10,000-30,000 civilians on the small island on February 28, 1947.  Other estimates go as high as 150,000 based on the number of missing household members. Intellectuals were targeted; doctors, lawyers, students (including high school and middle school students)  disappeared or were murdered and left in the streets.  

This atrocity doesn't deserve to be left in the dark, remembered only by survivors, so I'm glad I read the book for that knowledge alone.

Back to the book.  The 228 Massacre continues its effect through Silk, Lisa, and Abbey, although Lisa and Abby are unaware of this terrifying time in Silk's life.  Silk never mentions it, nor does she discuss her husband, Lisa's father.  However, Silk never hides her deep antipathy for the Chinese. 

The story is told through four voices:  Silk, Lisa, Abby, and Jack, an elderly Chinese man who has recently lost his wife.

Unfortunately, the narratives of these four individuals failed to work as well as I hoped.  The voices didn't quite ring true for me.  The dialogue was a bit stiff and didn't always seem to suit the circumstances of the individuals.  Abbey, for example, is only ten-years-old, but she is too articulate, too wise, too competent and calm (in one particular situation) for her age. The incident at the party should have caused more fear and outrage in both Abby and Lisa.

The plot is not about the 1947 massacre, but about how the tragedy influences the survivors and their descendants.  Silk has a fear of academic success and stresses the importance of manual labor, discouraging first Lisa's school achievements and then Abbey's.  She cannot forget that her husband and other intellectuals were among the thousands who were murdered.  

There are so many threads here:  the care of the elderly, bullying, child abuse, the effect of secrets, the influence of the past, aging and illness....  The resolutions of the problems seem too facile, too pat.

The book was worthwhile because of the information about Taiwan, but it could have been much more, perhaps, if the focus had been tightened.  Nevertheless, I think many readers will enjoy this book.

NetGalley/Martin Sisters Publishing

Contemporary Lit.  2013.  Print version:  320 pages.

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