With this year’s edition of the Word on the Street festival set to run from September 28 to 30, we asked some of the writers on the wildly diverse bill to tell us about the reading experiences that shaped them. Which book left deep impressions early on? Which one overhauled the way they see and think about the world, and set them on a path to a literary life?
Here’s what May Q. Wong told us. She’s the Victoria-based author of A Cowherd in Paradise: From China to Canada, a chronicle of a family’s struggle with Canada’s discriminatory immigration laws.
Wong will be reading from her work at 4 p.m. on September 30, in the Canada Writes Tent outside the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library.
Until I read The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, I didn’t believe the tales of hardship and suffering that my mother endured during the first half of her life.
She was born in 1911, on the cusp of a change in the “Mandate of Heaven”, when the last emperor lost his throne and China was immersed in political turmoil and social unrest. From reading the story of Wang Lung and his stalwart wife, O-Lan, who lived a similar subsistence existence as my mother’s peasant family, I started to understand what my mother used to tell me.
Buck also opened my eyes to the widespread interest in the history of the Chinese people behind the “bamboo curtain”. Peasants were not only protagonists, they were heroes, just like my parents.