3 stories on friendship — Some relationships strengthen and some don’t

By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly

http://nwasianweekly.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/32_11/shelf_pearl.jpgPearl of China
By Anchee Min
Bloomsbury, 2010

In the southern Chinese town of Chin-kiang during the late 19th century, two young girls meet. The first girl is Willow, the only child of a destitute family. The second girl is Pearl, the daughter of American missionaries working to spread the word of God throughout China. Pearl will later become Nobel Prize-winning writer and activist Pearl S. Buck, but for now, she is a pale-skinned, blue-eyed child who goes around wearing a black knitted cap to disguise her blonde hair.

The two girls initially dislike each other, but eventually become best friends. “Pearl” follows their decades-long friendship, which survives multiple husbands, a civil war, the Cultural Revolution, and more.

Willow and Pearl’s loyalty to each other is nothing short of admirable. The two are the embodiment of the acronym “BFF.” I was particularly touched by Willow’s refusal to denounce Pearl after Mao’s regime deems her an imperialist. She risks her husband’s job, as well as her life and even spends years in prison, but Willow refuses to turn against her friend. We can only hope to develop such relationships throughout the course of our lives.

Although the story is told from Willow’s perspective, readers gain insight into what life might have been like for a young white girl who grew up among Chinese peasants, spoke like a native, and was skeptical of the God her father preached about every day. This role reversal is a refreshing change among the countless novels following non-white characters and their lives as the minority in their world.

Although the book is a work of fiction, Min based her story on facts. For anyone who has read “The Good Earth” or any of Buck’s other works, “Pearl” will give you a better understanding of the author and the events that shaped her life and writing.

http://nwasianweekly.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/32_11/shelf_collective.jpgThe Collective
By Don Lee
W.W. Norton & Company, 2012

In 1988, three individuals from different parts of the country meet for the first time at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. They are Joshua Yoon, Eric Cho, and Jessica Tsai.

Joshua quickly becomes the unofficial leader of the group. A little bit on the rude and vulgar side, he uses his generous yet manipulative nature to encourage (sometimes force) the other two to stand up for themselves as Asian Americans and challenge stereotypes. Eric, the story’s narrator and a writer like Joshua, is fascinated by Joshua’s view of the world and has the tendency to be easily influenced. Jessica, an artist who works with various mediums, is not so easily swayed.

After graduation, the three friends go their separate ways, but reunite years later in Cambridge, Mass. Together, they form the Asian American Artists Collective, the 3AC. They eventually bring more artists into the fold and soon love affairs spring up causing no end of drama. And through it all is Joshua, who has become no less manipulative with age and sets into motion events that will touch not only the 3AC, but strangers as well.

While “Collective” examines racial identity through the lens of an artist — with the characters questioning whether they are obligated to address the issue in their work simply because they are a minority — at the center of it are the relationships and friendships am.ong members of the group.

As Joshua manipulates people and situations to his liking, readers will begin to examine the people in their lives and question whether they have a Joshua in their lives — at least I did. And even though the end result may not be favorable, it is important to dig deeper and really consider whether someone is acting with a hidden agenda.

http://nwasianweekly.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/32_11/shelf_world.jpgThe World We Found
Thrity Umrigar
HarperCollins, 2012

As university students in Bombay during the late 1970s, Armaiti, Laleh, Kavita, and Nishta were best friends. The foursome stood up for their beliefs and challenged authority in hopes of changing the world for the better.

“World” takes place roughly three decades later with the four middle-aged women having gone their separate ways and keeping in touch only from time to time. They are brought back together only after learning that Armaiti, who had moved to the United States after she married, is dying from a brain tumor and wishes to see her friends one last time.

This request is not easy to grant as the upcoming trip brings up bittersweet feelings and long-buried guilt and passion. But it is also a wake-up call.

Although it has been 30 years since their idealistic days at the university and everyone is living a different life, the bond forged among the four friends remains strong even in the face of adversity.

Although they may have lost a bit of the spirit and strength that they possessed when they were younger, Armaiti, Laleh, Kavita, and Nishta gain it back in spades, as they each face inner demons and reveal things about themselves they always kept hidden — even from each other.

The love and loyalty the four women have for each other is nothing short of admirable as they learn more about each other and accept and support one another during this difficult time.

Throughout the story, Umrigar shows that we are all only human, bound to make mistakes from time to time that may hurt others. But she also shows that everyone has their limits and sometimes it takes reaching those limits to realize how strong we really are. (end)

Samantha Pak can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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