Books

excess baggage  

Excess Baggage
Excess Baggage is a semi-autobiographical novel about two Chinese sisters, one brought up in Communist China during the desolate years of the Cultural Revolution; the other in Japan amid the freewheeling, fast-growth years of bubble capitalism. They reunite as adults in Tokyo in the early 1990s when their family history accidentally catches up with them.

Zhang Peiyin, ‘the forgotten’ sister left behind in China, is hell-bent on securing her due compensation after giving up everything in the old country, including her two children, to join her family in Japan. After years of deprivation with little to do but dream, she imagines finding riches, fame, and comfort from a family that receives her with wide-open arms.

Instead, she finds a wary welcome from her estranged parents and her insecure, competitive younger sister, Vivian, who wants to drive her back to China. As the two navigate ensuing events, including the death of their mother, and grapple with their growing distrust, they confront their vastly different cultural divide. Ultimately, each must confront a fundamental question: what’s the meaning of home when your roots aren’t secure?

Excess Baggage is at one level a fresh look at dislocation from an Asian perspective in an Asian setting, taking off where other immigrant stories end with a more complex look than the stereotypical happily ever after reunification tale. At another level, though, it’s a universal tale about identity, alienation, love, jealousy and family obligations in the face of adversity.

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Modern Madame Butterfly: Fantasy and Reality in Japanese Cross-cultural Relationships
From Publishers Weekly
In this readable, anecdotal study, Ma, a Hong Kong native, explores marriages between Japanese and Westerners, and particularly how, despite tremendous social change, the stereotype of the Japanese woman as a “passive and selfless creature that is easily exploited” thrives in the minds of many Western men. After tracing the roots of the stereotype from Lafcadio Hearn’s depictions of Japanese women as “compliant, doll-like objects of fantasy,” Ma goes on to show how the decades-long drive to Westernize led many Japanese to perpetuate the myth. The most compelling chapters describe younger, urban Japanese women who, armed with jobs and large disposable incomes, are staying single longer, often rejecting more traditional-minded (and often sexist) Japanese men in favor of the “kindly gaijin” (foreigner). But Western men still often cling to the Madame Butterfly ideal: as one American man living in Tokyo put it, “Because Japan is at least thirty years behind in the feminist movement. . . . Let’s face it, this is Disneyland.” Meanwhile, Japanese men are increasingly finding love with Western women, whose different cultural values seem to free the men of many sexist assumptions. Throughout dozens of “case studies” detailing the spectrum of Japanese-Western love relationships, Ma maintains a refreshingly candid, down-to-earth tone, as when she finally notes, “The bottom line is: People see what they want to believe.”

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