Inheritance by Lan Samantha Chang

From start to finish, I really haven’t read a book in a while. There have been books for class, or books that I’ve began, or just picked up from the mini-libraries that are around LMU’s campus, but I haven’t finished any books that haven’t been for class.

When I have finished the book, it has taken a while, or I got near the finish line and stopped reading.

I’ve picked up a number of books this year. There was Nochita from San Francisco. The Things We Don’t Do, maybe also from San Francisco. I made a scene from Nochita into a directing exercise for class and meant to send it to the man who sold it to me and also to the author of the novel, Dia Felix. I finished The Things We Don’t Do by Andrés Neuman in Mexico City. I began the LMU common book, A Tale for the Time Being, and was struck at how beautiful that phrase was and how I needed to be a time being. I re-started it twice but still have yet to finish.

Reading is indeed my hobby. But reading is hard. It means actively letting go of other distractions, like Instagram or Facebook. It means focusing and getting lost in the story. Which was always one of my favorite things about reading- you’re in another world for a second. You’re invested in the characters and what is going to happen to them. It’s something special.

Today, maybe thirty minutes ago, I finished Inheritance by Lan Samantha Chang. I got it from one of the wooden pop up libraries at LMU. It actually isn’t even the finished edition. It’s an uncopyedited manuscript, that has some writing in blue ink in the front and back of the book.

In my free moments, I wanted to return to that book. When I got close to finishing it, it was like winning a prize. And when I did finish it, it made me want to read another novel. Because I got to remember how much I love that. Sitting, laying down, flipping the pages, and concentrating.

It’s really hard to focus on anything, much less reading, but this is a good week. I’ve felt like Paige is somewhere nearby. The DGA open house inspired me and reminded me that things happen when you believe in them and when you believe in you. Trust that you can. I actually feel like making a 400. I feel like I have something to say, and I began another poem yesterday- while I was in class, so I probably should have been paying attention, but regardless. I really like the poem, and I can see my voice.

Getting to Inheritance, I still need time to decipher it and how I feel about it. But my initial feelings are a gratefulness that it exists, and that this is the book that is going to bring me back to reading.

You know, I was just about to write a summary, but I don’t want to do that.

The novel deals with a family, mainly composed of women, in China. It opens with the grandfather, but he eventually dies. The mother, Chanyi (grandmother to the narrator), may or may not have committed suicide. This affects the youngest daughter, Yinan, (aunt to the narrator) in that she is more recluse and quiet and knows that her mother committed suicide. She assumes it is because she was born a girl, when Chanyi and her husband would have preferred a boy. However, the eldest daughter, Junan, refuses to discuss her mother in those terms, and believes the way that she fell so deeply in love with her husband to be her downfall. She vows to not be like her mother, as she saw how it was her undoing.

Despite this, Junan enters into an arranged marriage with Li Ang. She falls for him, and she loves him. He is fighting for the Nationalist party, although his brother Li Bing is a communist and thus is on the opposite side. She assumes that Li Ang does not go to chaweis or sleep with other women. She loves him each time he returns from being stationed somewhere.

However, through the way of a gossip, it eventually comes back to her that of course Li Ang has visited chaweis. This is of a deep hurt to her, and after some time has passed, she wires a telegram to Li Ang to let him know that she is planning to send Yinan to live with him. This is a way for Junan to see that Li Ang is preoccupied, without losing him to another woman. She would rather choose the woman and thus chooses her sister.

Unexpectedly, Yinan falls in love with Li Ang, and the feeling is deeply mutual. Yinan ends up being pregnant with a boy, and for Junan, this is forgivable. Yinan is the sister she loves, after all. It has always been the two of them. However, what becomes unforgivable is the love between Yinan and Li Ang. It might have been forgivable that Yinan fell in love with Li Ang, but the reverse is not okay. Their relationship is forever altered. It is the hurt that causes Junan to push both of them away.

This book was hard to get through at times. Not because of the way it is written or any actual density in the language. Just being so involved in the feelings of the character is what makes the book hard to emotionally get through. I had to put the book down and return to it the next day at times. It is obvious how much it hurt Junan to even think of Li Ang slipping away when she loves him so much, or of being “just a man” (quoted in the book somewhere, in some fashion). It also hurt me to read of Li Ang whenever he assumed that Junan must know that he occasionally went to chaweis and slept with other women. The way Junan cared so much paralleled with his carelessness towards her and the ease with which the casual sex is expected when someone is far apart really hurt. So, I felt for Junan a lot.

That’s always tricky with these kind of stories, literature or media wise. Because by the end of novel, it is apparent that Junan has had a negative influence on the lives of the people around her. She has been controlling in a need to present a calm demeanor, because she has loved and loves too hard. But it has been destructive. It hurts to know that she was always extremely excited for Li Ang to come home, but presented herself in a calm way. In such that he didn’t know. But perhaps it would have hurt her even more if she had greeted him with exuberant joy, and he still betrayed her anyway.

And that’s a confusing thing. Because Li Ang’s betrayal, which is what it was, also resulted in Yinan being true to herself. Which forever hurt her for the rest of her life. Although, Li Ang and Yinan remain together until Yinan’s death.

The book just begs a lot of questions, and it is easy to sympathize with multiple characters at one point and then to resent them at the next and then to sympathize with them again.

For example, there’s the case of Hu Ran and Junan’s daughter, Hong. Hong, from a young age, was interested in Hu Ran, and Junan sent him away. They find each other, in later years, in another city, and fall in love. But Junan, as somewhat her mother’s daughter, conceals how much she loves Hu Ran, and is not quite aware of this until after they are separated by the war, and she is in Taipei. She realizes there that she is pregnant. Hu Mudan encourages Hu Ran to go after Hong. However, he dies on the journey. This too, might have been avoided, if not for Junan.

Yet, it’s complicated. Junan is a villian at points, but the audience gets to know her thoughts very intimately in the beginning of the novel. Thus, she’s not someone who could ever be hated because the audience understands her too.

So, the novel is great. It is heartbreaking. It rings very true. And it’s not able to be read quickly, but it goes by fast anyway.

❤ ❤ ❤

Thanks for writing it.

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