Written by Zhang Guixing, “My South Seas sleeping beauty: A tale of memory and longing” is a fascinating story whereby the set is in the magical jungles of a place known as Borneo. A Chinese-Malay youth, known as Su Qi, is the narrator as he talks about the vivid collections he has and recounts about his life. Su Qi is troubled and sensitive lad who hails from a wealthy family. The story begins with Su Qi talking about how there were different stories regarding the manner in which his sister died.
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Nevertheless, in spite of what exactly transpired, the truth remains that the death of the only daughter in the family, viz. Su Qi’s sister, dealt a big blow to the family, which explains why the father started running after young girls while the mother sought solace in an illicit affair. In the quest to shake off the tormenting environment that his home offered at best, Su Qi surrenders his mind to the surrounding environment, which is characterized by uncommon flora and fauna coupled with communist insurgents.
To Su Qi, the surrounding environment of a rich mix of insurgents and flora and fauna offers the perfect solace that befits his woes until he bumps into Chunxi, a family friend. Chunxi provides an aura of honesty and kindness in a world that is evasive and cruel. Nevertheless, tragedy befalls her as she goes through a bizarre accident, which forces her to go into a coma while Su Qi decides to flee the country and go to Taiwan.
Whilst in a Taiwan college, the narrator meets Keyi, an enchantress who befits his choices for an admirable woman. Later, Su Qi finds himself revealing his family’s secrets to a total stranger and at this point, he realizes the wish of having Chunxi, whom he adores to wake up from the coma, might be a castle in the sky.
The author of “My South Seas Sleeping beauty” writes the narration in an intriguing manner such that it introduces the Malaysian and Chinese literature particularly to readers in the West. This paper thus seeks to analyze this book and go into detail with regard to formulating an argument.
A closer look at the opening part of the book reveals the author’s interest in unveiling the narrator’s early days as a child in Borneo. The story opens with the untimely death of demise of the narrator’s sister coupled with the turmoil that consequently hit the family leading to its near-break down.
He notes, “My sister’s death was the subject of all sorts of stories” (Zhang 1). The chapter explicates the occurrences surrounding the narrator’s family; for instance, his dad’s senselessness and especially his insatiable appetite for young girls coupled with the narrator’s girl friend going into coma. In the second part, the narrator recalls his early life and wild exploits especially the romantic moments he shared with Keyi his school time girl friend.
In the final part, the narrator’s focus shifts to Borneo and specifically sticks to the Su Qi dad’s escapades especially his blind compulsion towards a young girl of the Dayak origin. Additionally, Su Qi’s mother emerges as having plans of destroying the beautiful family garden. Moreover, in the third chapter, Su Qi comes to the realization that he is truly in love with the twin sister to Chunxi who goes by the name Chuntian and ends up breaking his romance with Keyi.
The author makes sure that throughout the entire novel, the story of Su Qi’s family relates extensively to the historical context of the book. Right from the way Su Qi’s father decides to study in a Taiwan University, his affair with a certain female communist, as well as the British visitors showing up at the parties that he hosts.
There is also Borneo’s complicated colonial history coupled with interracial relationships. The British colonial government kills the female communist who is romantically involved with Su Qi’s father and so he vows to seek revenge.
He does this by pretending to be a philanthropic and ardent communist while the truth is that he is “taking advantage of the Communists fanaticism…so as to make sure his own hatreds and desires are met (Zhang 178). In addition, figurative elements as symbolism come out in the story; for instance, the narrator mother’s illicit affair symbolizes the meeting point between colonialism and personal desires.
The affair that Su Qi’s mother is having with the Dayak Man come into views as a way of her seeking vengeance since her husband is also having sexual escapades especially with Lin Yuan. Su Qi’s mother also tells him a story written by a British author. In the life of Su Qi, a girl from Taiwan falls in love with a Brunei prince. The manner in which both race and gender come out as the British’s sedition that runs throughout the story.
One of the styles that the author uses is simile whereby he likens the Su Qi’s family garden to the Eastern Malaysia rainforest that does “not look too different from the Borneo jungle” (Zhang 189).
Looking at Su Qi’s mother, it is easy to see that she has two different personalities; one she is very caring and tender especially when she is in her garden; on the other hand, when provoked she can turn to be very a nasty and harsh woman who portrays “ the mercilessness of an assassin” ( Zhang 10). There is a forbearing significance of the two different sides of portrayed by Su Qi’s mother that the author brings out, which is the likelihood of revival from bad things.
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The two main components in the novel “My South Seas Sleeping beauty” are gender and race. As the novel unfolds, the indigenous Dayak women portray an unparalleled resolve and potentiality to contain the Chinese men who simply want to carry out a revenge mission.
For instance, after an inferno breaks down during a party in the narrator’s home, the Dayak maidservants working in the family are quick to rescue those attending the party. the narrator’s mother is responsible for starting the fire as a way of striking back at the profligate acts exhibited by the guests.
In addition, the narrator’s father dies in the hands of a Dayak girl who consequently succeeds in killing any hopes of the father attacking the communist lovers as a way of avenging what they had done to him earlier in the story. This novel thus deals with very grave issues like colonial and racial tension that were happening in the Malaysian history.
Female characters in this novel also play a big role especially by being the object of the men’s desire and fixation. This aspect comes into view through the relationships that the novel highlights in detail. Su Qi’s father immediately falls in love with the Dayak teenage girl, while Su Qi himself completely falls in love with three women namely Chunxi, Keyi, and Chuntian.
Keyi makes him to forget about his past and he enjoys himself and has fun while with her, but later their relationship ends when he recognizes that he is truly in love with Chuntian, who is Chunxi’s twin sister. Lin Yuan also cherishes Su Qi’s mother despite the fact that she is having the affair to avenge her husband who is also having his own affairs outside their marriage.
Zhang uses the style of narration whereby the main character, Su Qi, gives his life experiences as well as those of his family. The use of narration allows the reader to relate with the main character more as compared to if another person was telling the story on his behalf.
The narrator goes to the extent of giving even the most intricate and personal details about himself and what he used to do while he was still a small boy. For example, he states that he would piss on the fire that they used to burn the garden that his mother nurtured. However, he uses somewhat vulgar language to describe what he experienced after pissing on the fire; he got a “fiery cock” (Zhang 9).
He does not shy away from giving some of the personal details on what his mother would do to him; for instance, he says, “My mother would tug gently at my penis and massage my scrotum” (Zhang 9). By using the first person style, the other characters come out through the narrator via the relationships he has with his parents, siblings, and friends. The reader is in a position to tell what kind of person he is through these associations.
There is heterogeneity style in “My South Seas Sleeping Beauty”, which is very palpable through the way Zhang uses it in order to highlight the differences between Taipei and Borneo. Borneo’s narrative uses complicated images as well as self-explanatory sentences to give a story that is full of unfulfilled revenge and desires (Helliwell 65). Student’s living standards and styles in Taiwan in the last quarter of the 20th century come out through the delineation of Taipei.
Some of the places that students patronized like “the coffee house, night markets, and folks bars” (Ting-Wei 8), come out clearly to underscore the kind of atmosphere that existed in universities during that time. The atmosphere of the university life comes out especially through Su Qi’s roommates behaviors. For instance, one cavalierly recounts (in writing) the numerous times he gets lost in sexual fantasies to a point of onanism.
Despite the fact that Taipei’s narratives are somewhat disorganized when compared to that of Borneo, the two parts reconcile at one point when the narrator starts developing feelings for another Chunxi, coupled with the cavorting relationship he enters with Keyi . After Su Qi and Keyi have their first date, he begins thinking about Chunxi; the narrator notes, “It was as if he was searching for treasure that had been lost at the bottom of the sea for two hundred years” (Zhang 102).
As the novel is coming to a finish, Su Qi reawakens the feelings he has for Chuntian and surprisingly it is with Keyi’s support. The novel ends on a happy note whereby Su Qi’s last words “Chuntian is that you?” which shows him that there is a sense of uncertainty as well as hope.
This book is written exemplarily and it explores the issue of sexuality as well as an identity and a skillful reworking of both the Western and Chinese myth. The Chinese culture comes into sight and allows that Western cultures get a feeling of how the people in China live. Their social life includes women planting and tendering to gardens and taking care of their children as “my mother the fanatical gardener were forever chipping restlessly away at her garden” (Zhang 112).
Men on the other hand went to schools and worked to fend for their families. The other theme brought out in this novel is that of family; a family unit is extremely important in the upbringing of children. In the case of Su Qi’s family, the fact that there is tension between the parents makes the home not a conducive place for children, which underscores why Su Qi feels the need to escape and shift his attention in the jungle.
The parents also go their own separate ways after they start having their own affairs outside their marriage. This move makes the family to become disoriented, as the parents do not care for one another anymore. Unfortunately, the person who gets hurt the most is Su Qi, their son, especially since he misses his sister who dies and the girl he loved is in a coma.
The other prominent theme apart from racism is that of men losing their power courtesy of women involvement. The three prominent men in this novel, viz. Su Qi, his father, and Li Yuan seem to be under the spell of women. For instance, Su Qi meets Chunxi whom he loves a lot, but after she is involved in a tragic accident that puts her in a coma, Su Qi moves on and at the University, he meets Keyi whom he has a romantic relationship with even though he still loves Chunxi.
While with Keyi, the reality strikes him and he admits that he is truly in love with Chunxi’s twin sister. Su Qi’s father is another victim of women’s charm whereby he has numerous sexual escapades with different women; in addition, he has an instant infatuation with a teenage girl from the Dayak community and later he has a relationship with a communist.
Sadly, the socialist lover dies courtesy of the colonial government and thus the narrator’s father vows to take revenge on the government, which is responsible for her death. Li Yuan, on the other hand, admires Su Qi’s mother and they start a romantic relationship. However, Su Qi’s mother only seems to be in the illicit affair since she wants to avenge her husband who has been unfaithful to her.
Given the issues raised in this paper, the novel is a resourceful insight into the life of Chinese people especially in the 1970s. The majority of Western readers as well as other people from the outside world will also benefit from reading this book and even find it fascinating besides being educative. Zhang has done a recommendable job in coming up with a novel that is charming not only to the old, but also to the young audience.
Helliwell, Christine. “Variation in oral narrative performance: A pacific example.” The Journal of Polynesian Society 121(1): 51-73. Print.
Ting-wei, Ku. “Picking and choosing the history we want to keep.” Taipei Times 12 Mar. 2007: 8. Print.
Zhang, Guixing. My south sleeping beauty: A tale of memory and longing, New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. Print.