Friday, Apr 27, 2018
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Writer regales audience about colorful ancestors


Lisa See has written eight books, and several are set in China. Her novels are often heart-breaking, but she says even though the books aren't autobiographical, 'a lot of my emotional life does sneak in.'


We may love our mates and children, our work, pets, hobbies, and a well-grilled hamburger.

English provides one single word for love. In Chinese there are many: gratitude love, pity love, respectful love. The word for mother love has two facets: pain and love. Is that what the child feels for the mother, or what a mother feels for her child, asked Lisa See, who spoke in Toledo Thursday night. "Mothers suffer," she said. "Children do what they want."

Author of eight books, several set in China, Ms. See addressed a largely white, female, middle-aged audience of 381 at the Authors! Authors! program in the Stranahan Theater. She was in turns, thoughtful and humorous. "Even though these books are not autobiographical in the traditional sense, a lot of my emotional life does sneak in," said Ms. See, 56, of Los Angeles and mother of two.

She regaled with tales of colorful male ancestors. Her great-great-grandfather left China for California in the late 1800s to work on the railroad. He had a taste for women and gambling and stayed for years, while his impoverished wife in China supported their children by carrying people on her back. She sent her 14-year-old son in search of his father. The boy found him, and the father returned. But the lad, Ms. See's great-grandfather, stayed, and by 30, owned a Sacramento factory making underwear for brothel workers.

He married a Caucasian pioneer, and by 1919, they owned five antique stores. He acquired four wives and 12 children, the last born when he was in his 90s. Ms. See's Caucasian mother's father, a one-time Texas newspaperman, was 69 when he and his fifth wife had a son. He wrote porn, turning out 75 novels.

Ms. See's novels are often heartbreaking. One of her maxims is that there's sadness in happiness and happiness in sadness. "Family matters, and perhaps it's the only thing that matters," said Ms. See, married to an entertainment-industry attorney for 30 years.

In her 2011 Dreams of Joy, a 19-year-old Chinese-American girl goes to China in 1957 to find her father and throws herself into the New Society, heedless of the dangers in the communist regime. The New Society often promoted bizarre campaigns, such as ordering peasant farmers to plant 10 seeds in one spot, shipping them crushed glass and advising them to mix it into the soil as a nutrient, and eliminating insects, flies, rats, and sparrows. As a result of policies and drought, a three-year famine resulted in the starvation deaths of an estimated 45 million Chinese in the late 1950s.

Authors! Authors! will continue in early 2012, but the lineup has not been confirmed. The series, in its 17th year, is sponsored by The Blade and the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.

Contact Tahree Lane at: or 419-724-6075.

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