About Lan Samantha Chang

Topics: Overseas Chinese, Chinese American, Short story Pages: 6 (2283 words) Published: December 4, 2012
Lan Samantha Chang's fiction has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Story, and The Best American Short Stories. A graduate of Yale University and the University of Iowa, she divides her time between Northern California and Princeton, New Jersey.  

Many of the families in Hunger have attempted to sever themselves from the past in order to build a future. Was this how your parents coped with starting over in America? What parts of Chinese culture did they celebrate? My parents' disconnection from China was never as deliberate or extreme as Ming and Sansan's disconnection in "The Unforgetting." My mother and father spoke Chinese and ate Chinese food; they were proud of their Chinese background and taught their four daughters (I was the third) to be proud of it as well. But like the midwestern Hwang family in "The Unforgetting", we were geographically isolated; months would go by when we did not have contact with Chinese or Chinese Americans outside of our immediate family. This meant that my sisters and I gained most of our knowledge of China and Chinese culture from our parents, and there were many things my parents did not, or would not, talk about. Like many Chinese immigrant parents, my mother and father had to make decisions about which parts of Chinese culture to preserve and which to let go of. In the case of our particular family, my parents made certain, first and foremost, that all four of their daughters valued family. We're a close-knit clan, and we feel responsible for each other. On a more practical level, we all learned to cook Chinese food (all of my sisters are very good cooks). We all celebrate Chinese New Year, as well as Christmas; and we usually stuff our holiday turkey with sticky rice and shitake mushrooms. When I went to college I met Chinese American classmates whose parents had made different decisions. Some of them, like the fictional Hwangs, had cut out many aspects of Chinese culture altogether. They did not speak Chinese or eat Chinese food; they had, in a few cases, fragile or stormy connections with their parents. Meeting them planted the seeds for the short story "The Unforgetting." Have you come to accept these gaps in knowledge, or do you want to learn more about the specifics of your family history? How has it affected your writing? Surrounded by corn, cows, and picturesque red barns, my family made biannual trips to Chicago to stock up on powdered tofu mix and canned hoisin sauce. As we loaded and unloaded our precious supplies, I sensed that the very nature of our existence in Appleton, Wisconsin was a puzzle. I knew my parents had come to the Midwest from far away. I knew they had left China when the Communists had taken over in 1949. But my parents' explanations, while factually accurate, did little to help me understand why and how they had left their homeland and settled in what must have been to them a very strange place. My parents had been through great trauma—their fears for us and the few stories they told indicated this—but they spoke about the past so seldom that to this day I feel that I am missing some basic facts about their lives. This silence came, I think, from a desire to protect us as well as a need to let go of the past, to focus on the future. In my novella "Hunger," the narrator says, "There was a hole in our house, like a great mouth, filled with love words and lost objects." For years, our family tiptoed around a great hole of silence from the past. I learned that the past was something to be avoided at all costs. But at the same time, I hungered to know more about it, because it was the only clue to understand my parents, whom I loved deeply. Of course, my vexed and thwarted curiosity and desire for understanding has been one of the primary reasons I write fiction. In my short story "San" I developed the idea of the child as a detective collecting clues, gathering evidence. Naturally, the narrator's...
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