An Ocean Apart, A World Away by Lensey Namioka
Publisher: Laurel Leaf | 2003 (first published 2002) | 197 pages
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The synopsis that’s printed at the back cover of the book urged me to buy and read it. It’s about a gutsy 16-year-old Chinese girl from post-Revolution China and she needs to make an important choice. A) Go to medical school to achieve her dream of becoming a doctor. B) Run off with the exciting Liang Baoshu who has confessed his feelings for her.
Yanyan is not a girl who bows down to conformity. She is fascinated by science, the treating of wounds and health improvement. That’s why she wants to study medicine so she can become a doctor and save other people’s lives. Lucky for her, her father fully supports her decision considering it’s 1921 in China where women rarely attend university.
Yanyan’s Eldest Brother is taking martial arts lessons and Liang Baoshu is his classmate. Baoshu and Yanyan got better acquainted while on a trip to Shanghai where she was going to say goodbye to a friend who’s going to work in America. After an unpleasant incident at a dangerous Shanghai alley, Liang Baoshu became even more impressed with Yanyan’s courage.
When he asked her to accompany him on his quest to restore the Manchu’s Qing Dynasty, Yanyan has to decide fast. If she were to follow him, she’d need to ditch her plans of studying medicine. It would also break her parents’ hearts if she went off with Baoshu. Her father has high hopes of seeing his daughter succeed in the sciences and to bring about changes for the development of the country.
She finally made up her mind to refuse Baoshu’s offer and prepared to sail off to America to Cornell University. For her, it’s career first, love put on hold. In America, she managed to make a few new friends who helped her overcome her culture shock.
I found An Ocean Apart, a World Away an entertaining and informational book. It’s a small paperback and cost only RM12 at Popular. I found it at the Bargains’ section. It was indeed a lucky find!
Issues of prejudice and stereotype were also cleverly incorporated into the story. For example, Chinese girls were expected to be good at cooking and embroidery. Well, Yanyan can’t cook a simple dish to save her life. She doesn’t even know how to cut vegetables!
Another assumption is that Western men with big noses can’t speak a word of Mandarin. Yanyan, her Eldest Brother and Baoshu discovered the contrary in an embarrassing situation on the train to Shanghai. Eldest Brother and Baoshu were insulting the Westerner in Mandarin without knowing that he can understand every word they said! Lesson to be learnt: Never speak ill of others in their presence, even if you think that they can’t understand!
I found the ending quite unfinished actually. I’ll have to read Ties That Bind, Ties That Break, which is the companion novel to this one.