For most of my life, I have had an uneasy relationship with language, and even though I dreamed of it, I never seriously believed I could become a published writer. Silence was the language I was most comfortable speaking while growing up.
I was born in 1975 in Jakarta to Chinese parents. Routinely targeted as scapegoats, we were forbidden to speak Chinese or embrace any part of our heritage. Instead, we were forced to speak Indonesian, the same tongue used by the government and the masses to denounce us. I learned from early on that language could be used to oppress and discriminate and the only way I knew how to handle it was to withdraw into silence. Being painfully shy did not help. In fact, I was so quiet that for a long time my fourth grade teacher thought I was mute.
At sixteen, I left my family and moved to the States. I barely spoke English. The challenges of learning a new language and living in a new country brought all my insecurity to the forefront. I was ashamed of my accent. I remember sweating with apprehension while I waited in line to order at McDonald's. My uneasy affair with language continued after I enrolled at Stanford two years later (to this day, I believe they admitted me by mistake). Feeling inferior to all the brilliant students who had spoken English all their lives, I chose to major in Computer Science and stay away from classes that required me to speak. Yet something else happened to me in college. Reading fiction on the sly, I began to take comfort in the written word, and to discern avenues in English where my own native tongue had failed to afford me. I worked as a software engineer after graduation, but I was always reading and writing. I persisted, despite my doubts, and my novel is the result of that labor.
Of Bees and Mist is a literary fantasy about three generations of women in two families. The world they inhabit is entirely imagined, woven from customs and mythologies I have had the privilege of encountering. The book is my attempt to give words to the daydreams that saturated the silences of my childhood, and to show that language-more than an instrument of division-can also embrace and emancipate.
What a touching letter. Thanks for sharing. I hope the book is just as good.ReplyDelete
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