Review: Forget Sorrow by Belle Yang
September 12, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Escaping an ex-boyfriend who had started stalking her, author Belle Yang stayed in the safety of her parents’ home and turned that experience into one of discovery that she would apply to her own recovery from personal terror. As a graphic novel memoir, “Forget Sorrow” recounts that time during which she bonded with her father and uncovered the story of his family in China — that is, her own story.
Yang’s father, Baba, weaves tales that are part soap opera, part fable, as he recounts his life growing up on his grandfather’s home in Manchuria and the familial characters that populated it, most notably his father and three uncles. Their battles and double crosses in order to gain the grandfather’s favor take up the bulk of these stories, and the lessons learned stretch across the decades to Yang’s own life.
This story of four Chinese brothers plays out like the exact opposite of the more famous one involving five who team up against a problem. Here the brothers bicker over the grandfather’s favors and, in particular, control of his rural farm land, tainting the house with intrigue but setting up a delicate structure ready to be toppled as the communists begin to move into the country in the 1940s.
Presenting no united front, thanks to the brothers’ petty concerns, nor any plan in preparation against the dire communist future that hangs inevitably before them, “Forget Sorrow” becomes a meditation on the unexpected darkness of life and the notion that our time here is too short for the pettiness.
Yang’s story is also about the passage of time and the jaded quality with which people can approach tradition. Unable to accept that their ways and values are a human construct — and therefore require their own effort to perpetuate them — Baba’s family soon finds that a crisis like the communist takeover will usher out their way of life with not much effort. It’s only then that they can really appreciate what they had, but obviously too late.
One current through the book is the idea of meditation and enlightenment, asceticism and casting off the world. It’s a constant movement by several of the characters and a reason to offer lectures to other people. Through Yang’s personal scope of history and experience, though, the hunt for enlightenment becomes a double-edged sword, and doing nothing in times of trouble but seeking contemplation becomes its own form of ignoring problems.
Yang’s family history ends up bringing the world she relates up-to-date and allows her readers to see not only the broad strokes and tiny slices of history, but also a macroscopic view of the points where the knife has perhaps dulled, though even the furthest sections are still affected by history’s chops.