Portraying a pivotal historical period: Jennifer Chow discusses her novel “The 228 Legacy”

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Jennifer J. Chow

By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly

Jennifer J. Chow, author of the novel “The 228 Legacy,” appears in Seattle on August 1st at the Miller Community Center, sponsored by the Seattle Taiwan American Professionals.  She’ll speak on “Stories & Culture: Literature Affects How We and Others Think About Us.”  She answered some questions over e-mail.

NWAW:  Where were you born, where did you grow up, and what are your most important memories of growing up

Chow:  I was born and raised in Fresno, Calif. I enjoyed creative play as a kid and would often make up imaginary escapades involving my adventurer backpack. The library was my favorite fun destination because I could enter all sorts of worlds via books.

NWAW:  All through school, who were your most important teachers, and why?

Chow:  Of course, I loved all my English teachers. I was particularly fond of my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Okada, who exposed me to different forms of poetry, including diamante and haiku. In high school, I admired my biology teacher, Mr. Ratcliffe, because he taught with passion and in innovative ways, making sure students enjoyed the process of learning.

NWAW:  Is there any one writer without whom you would not have become a writer?

Chow:  I’ve always wanted to write, ever since I escaped into books as a child. I think I have too many favorite authors to list, but some of them can be found on my website, www.jenniferjchow.com, under the FAQ section. I must say, though, that without Jean Kwok (“Mambo in Chinatown”), I would have given up.

Early on in my writing career, she encouraged me (on Twitter, of all places!). Also, I’d like to give a shout-out to Seattle’s own Jamie Ford (“Songs of Willow Frost”), who is very sweet and supportive in person.

NWAW:  What is the 288 Incident?  How did you first become aware of it, and how did you learn about it?

Chow:  The 228 Incident was a pivotal point in Taiwan history, which occurred after the transition from Japanese to Chinese Nationalist or the Kuomintang (KMT) rule. On Feb. 27, 1947, a Taiwanese widow’s savings and merchandise were taken away from her, which sparked a riot.

The following day, troops fired on a peaceful demonstration against the corrupt Chinese administration.

The struggle between native Taiwanese and the new Chinese government eventually led to tens of thousands of massacred civilians. I had no idea about this tragic event and time period until my relatives told me on a trip to Taiwan.

NWAW:  What led you to decide to write a book grounded in the incident?

Chow:  The pain I witnessed from my family as they told me their stories led me to write my book. It was astounding for me to understand that this period of Taiwanese history was blocked out and untold for decades until the end of Taiwan’s martial law. I knew that this event affected people deeply and continues to have ramifications, so I wanted to create a story that explores the subtle and dramatic results of this trauma upon multiple generations.

NWAW:  How long did the book take to write?  What were the easiest and hardest aspects of writing it?  How did you work past the mental and emotional obstacles?

Chow:  The book took me about two years to write, with multiple drafts and revisions. I really enjoyed crafting the main characters, but it was difficult to balance the different voices and ages of each individual. I worked through the obstacles by persevering one word at a time and having the support of my critique group and online writing friends.

NWAW:  What reactions, positive and negative, have you gotten about the book?

Chow:  I’ve gotten a lot of support from those who have experienced 228 directly or whose relatives have suffered through that time. They’re always so excited that I’m telling this story, and that it echoes the pain they’ve gone through. On the other hand, I’ve had others who disliked how subtle I was in portraying those historical periods.

NWAW:  Have you visited Seattle before?   If not, what are you looking forward to?

Chow:  This is my first time visiting Seattle. I’m looking forward to the Chihuly museum. It amazes me how imagination can translate to those magnificent colored whirls of glass. I’ve also heard a lot of good things about Snoqualmie Falls and am excited to see the majestic nature of the local area. Plus, I hear the food is excellent, so I’m looking forward to culinary exploration as well.  (end)

For more information on Jennifer Chow’s talk, visit tap-seattle.org/blog/?p=2389.

Andrew Hamlin can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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