Monday, June 13, 2011

Dumpling Days

Lin, Grace. 2011. Dumpling Days. New York: Little Brown.

(Advance Reader Copy supplied by publisher - artwork not final)

(a booktalk)
In Dumpling Days, Pacy Lin, her parents and two sisters (one older, one younger) are going to Taiwan for Pacy's grandmother's 60th birthday - for 28 days! Twenty-eight days?!  What is Pacy supposed to do for 28 days without her friends in a country where she may look like everyone else, but inside, she's definitely not. At least there will be dumplings!

Pacy Lin is Grace Lin's semi-autobiographical character from her previous books, The Year of the Dog and the Year of the Rat.  In Dumpling Days, Grace Lin has made a departure from her earlier books.  Breaking out of "The Year of the" formula, with its limited page numbers, Dumpling Days is a longer book (approximately 265 pages), that offers Lin a chance to explore many facets of Chinese art, food, and culture,  as well as offer deeper glimpses into the lives of Pacy's sisters, Lissy and Ki-Ki, and even their parents,
Mom and Dad had told us about how they had moved to the United States, but I hadn't thought about their not understanding TV commercials, not being able to order food, being ignored because you didn't speak the language - all the things I found hard here in Taiwan.  Maybe when Mom ad Dad were first in America, everything was just as strange and confusing to them as Taiwan was to me now. It was surprising to think about.

A beautifully concise thought channeled through the voice of a young girl, easily undertood and profoundly important. In addition to offering cultural perspective, through the family's travels and activities, the reader learns much about the Chinese/Taiwanese culture.

Through classes in painting, paper-cutting, and Chinese characters, the girls learn how difficult it can be to do something that is essentially very simple. By visiting a loud and bustling Chinese temple, they learn something of the Chinese sense of humor - the temple was adorned with statues of life's four greatest pleasures,
yawning, picking your ears, scratching your back, and picking your nose.
And Pacy and her family also see how the Taiwanese reconcile the past with the present. Tawain's Tapei 101 building (named for its 101 floors) is a symbolic building representing the last century and the future century in architecture evoking lucky Chinese coins.  Despite being a modern economic and developmental powerhouse, during Ghost Month, the people of Taiwain still burn paper money as offerings to the deceased;  Pacy's older Taiwanese relatives are fearful of any night travel during Ghost Month - fascinating reading for young, inquisitive minds interested in other cultures. 

If I had to guess, I would say that Grace Lin is a very gentle and empathetic person. In all of her written and artistic endeavors (Ling and Ting, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, The Year of the Dog, etc.), she tells an engaging and insightful story in a soft and contemplative manner, with humor and without many rough edges that are so often the focus of contemporary fiction.  Particularly interesting in Dumpling Days, is that, although there is a "mean character," a girl in Pacy's painting classes, it is Pacy herself who thwarts her own artistic abilities.

Dumpling Days is a perfect choice for younger readers who are ready for longer books, but perhaps not ready for the heavier content usually found in longer books.  Also a perfect choice for anyone interested in Chinese culture, or readers seeking what adults term a "gentle read."

2 comments:

  1. I love all of her books and it has taught me a lot about Chinese/Taiwanese culture.

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  2. Thanks for letting us know about this book. I love Grace Lin's work and look forward to reading Dumpling Days.

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