“After I read a good book, I have a hard time coping with reality.”
I was still pretty drunk, even after I have finished reading The Life of A Banana around 30 minutes ago. My heart keeps telling me, “Write it up, write it up” before I am sober again (from a book hangover, yeah I know, total nerd).
Well, I found The Life of A Banana in an airport bookstore. I remember that day, I arrived at the airport 4 hours earlier before the flight, and I was like, “Huh. I’m going to be super boored.” Fortunately, I found my best friend – bookstore, obvi – so I was browsing all the shelves and spotted this book right in the New Arrival section. I must admit that what attracted me first was its yellow and shiny cover with cute drawings of symbols. All of the books were on plastics, so I couldn’t browse through the pages. I only read the synopsis on the back cover and I thought, “This must be really good.” But then I hesitated for a little while whether it was worth it. Then I decided to buy the book because, deep down, I believed that this should be good and worth it (I always believe in my instinct anyway).
And it was.
Now that I don’t regret it.
And I would have regretted If I hadn’t bought it.
Thanks PP Wong for fulfilling my pleasure in enjoying books about diaspora. This kind of book is my #1 favorite of all time. Moreover, The Life of A Banana feels complete to me; it tells about the hardship of being an ethnic minority, encountering racial profiling, school bullying, family affairs, the sadness and the fights to be heard, and most of all, struggling to cope with the life in-between.
The concept of A Banana is new to me and it is interesting that, “it’s yellow (Asian) on the outside but white (Caucasian) on the inside”. It’s quite stereotyping and racial, but it pretty sums up of how the Chinese race feel about themselves in the “Western” countries like the UK or U.S in a simple yet very constructive concept.
Xing Li, the protagonist in this novel, is a Singaporean-Chinese, but the only home she knows is London. She was born and raised in London and she has no idea what Singapore is like. Her only family are her mother and her brother, Lai Ker, because her father has died since she was little. At the age of 12, she has to lose her mother because of an accident. It leaves Xing Li a huge hole in her heart because without her mother, her life falls apart. She doesn’t know what to do, and she doesn’t know whether she will be ever happy again. After her mother’s death, Xing Li lives with her ice queen Grandmother, the Hollywood actress Auntie Mei, and the weird Uncle Ho in her grandma’s big fancy house.
Xing Li’s mother and grandmother, Rose, had ever stopped talking for years. Rose is a hard woman – guess it’s because she had lived during the war and she was the first generation of immigrant. She had refused to talk to Xing Li’s mother because she had married someone Rose didn’t like. And when Rose finally let go and they started to talk again, they didn’t get many chances. Therefore, Xing Li never gets to know her grandmother well. That’s why living with her grandmother is a major surprise for Xing Li to adapt.
Rose is a posh woman living in a posh house. She sends Xing Li to a fancy private school, West Hill, where children from rich families are sent off. Despite its good reputation, Xing Li never gets to accustom to the school, especially because she encounters bullying.
Interesting part is, the bullying is a form of consequence that roots from hatred to the ethnic minority. Her friends keep mispronounce Xing Li’s name incorrectly intentionally, just to mess her up. Xing Li is also always cornered by a group of “mean girls” without any reasons; and the only reason is just because she is a Chinese. School feels like hell to Xing Li, especially after she encounters a major “accident” that happens because she is perceived as a second-class citizen and doesn’t have rights to fight. The only friend she has is Jay, a Jamaican-Chinese boy who understands well her feelings because Jay’s living a life in-between, too.
Through the book, Xing Li tries to figure out how to cope with her life. Being an orphan at such a young age and being an ethnic minority doesn’t feel so great to Xing Li. Moreover, after she discovers some of deepest, darkest family affairs and secrets, she knows what it means to have voice and courage to stand up for herself.
I LOVE this book. I must admit that one of the things that got my attention was Jay’s character. He’s a African-Chinese, for God’s sake. Can you imagine what he looks like? Well, I can’t. So I Googled it (seriously). And also, the protagonist is a South-East Asian, so I think the character is pretty much close to my culture. Moreover, when Xing Li finally has a chance to visit Singapore, I found the similar customs to mine, and it felt good reading a foreign book that isn’t really “remote” to me.
Four stars for PP Wong!