Friday, June 13, 2008

Wendy Lee

Wendy Lee is a graduate of Stanford University and New York University’s Creative Writing Program. She worked for two years in China as a volunteer English teacher.

Her new novel is Happy Family.

From a Q & A at her website:

1. Can you talk a little about how the idea for Happy Family came to be?

I'd been reading a lot of articles about the adoption of baby girls from China, and one parent’s comment in particular stood out for me. They said one of the reasons they adopted from China was that, unlike adopting a child in the U.S., there was no chance of the mother coming back to take the child away. So I got to thinking, What if someone did take away the child? Families are already such complicated things that I could imagine a situation like that being a potential tinderbox.

2. You spent two years teaching in China. How did this experience influence your novel?

During my second year in China I was an English teacher at Hwa Nan Women’s College, which is in the city of Fuzhou, Hua’s hometown in the book. This was the first women’s private college in the country, and, in addition to being a great place to teach, it’s located in an interesting part of town. Foreigners were restricted to this area in the 1800s, so if you take a walk around the neighborhood you’ll see remnants of the British Embassy, the American Embassy, and other colonial buildings that have been turned into schools or apartments. Fuzhou is relatively modern but here it’s like you’ve stepped back in time.

In the sections about China I really wanted to give a sense of how much change that country is going through. You have young people who have grown up with cell phones and Western movies, and then there are their parents or grandparents who still remember the Cultural Revolution. A city will contain courtyards left over from the Qing Dynasty, concrete Soviet-type blocks, and skyscrapers. As it’s often said, China is really a country that’s looking forward and backward at the same time.
Read the entire Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: Happy Family.

--Marshal Zeringue