Sunday, September 13, 2020

Jennie Liu

Jennie Liu is the daughter of Chinese immigrants. Having been brought up with an ear to two cultures, she has been fascinated by the attitudes, social policies, and changes in China each time she visits. She lives in Western North Carolina with her husband and two young sons.

Liu's new novel is Like Spilled Water.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Having a daughter is like spilled water is an old, well-known saying in China that refers to the notion that sons are more valuable than girls, because traditionally once a daughter was married, she became part of her husband’s family. Despite Like Spilled Water’s setting in modern China, the insidious hold of this worn-out idea is evident in Na’s family from the start when we find that her brother has died.

About your previous novel, Girls on the Line, you said both main characters were relatable to you. Is that true of Na, the protagonist of Like Spilled Water, too?

I wrote Na, who was raised in the countryside by her Grandma, to be somewhat na├»ve, which I can certainly relate to being at that age. My own overtired parents raised my siblings and me with benign neglect, but they kept us pretty sheltered and close to home outside of school hours. With five kids, they were far from being tiger parents, yet their unspoken authority over us at the time still bewilders me. Even though we were raised in the States, it’s like our obedience was written in our DNA. Writing LSW was partly an attempt to unpick that.

What would surprise American readers most about the social and cultural context of Like Spilled Water?

The pressure on the young people in China is enormous and can be traced much to the One Child Policy, its unintended consequences, and the country’s social policies. But like in any culture, when you’re raised and immersed in a certain way of life, it may be hard to see that there may be something to question, especially in such a collectivistic, authoritarian country like China.

What's the strongest link of Girls on the Line to Like Spilled Water?

GOTL is a story about what happened to two unadopted girls under the One Child Policy. When I was ready to start a new book, I wanted to do a retelling of one of my favorite novels, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, When I tried to configure a story set in the States, I quickly saw that direct retelling wasn’t going to work because I didn’t want to write a marriage story or a story that featured the lives of wealthy people. All the things I had learned about the One Child Policy from GOTL was fresh in my mind, and the image of my own girl cousin sprung to my mind—she was left-behind in the countryside to be raised by her grandma while her parents took her younger brother to the city. From there, the story took off, again with the fallout of the One Child Policy threading through.
Visit Jennie Liu's website.

My Book, The Movie: Girls on the Line.

The Page 69 Test: Girls on the Line.

Girls on the Line Q&A with Jennie Liu.

--Marshal Zeringue