Happy Monday everyone! Today, I’m taking part in the blog tour of Trixi Pudong and the Greater World! So let me introduce you to its author Audrey Mei, and let her regale you with her amazing tale behind her new novel.:
Documenting My Family’s Old Shanghai
Thank you Lidy for hosting me on my blog tour. I’m going to talk about why I wrote Trixi Pudong and the Greater World. There are two parts to it.
I was born in Oakland and grew up like many of the Asian Americans who now populate Northern California. My parents worked and made sure my sister and I each had our own bedrooms, our own cars, and that we’d graduate from college with multiple degrees, debt-free. I was privileged.
My father came from Shanghai but in my suburban childhood, Dad’s origins didn’t play a big role. Imagine that: Dad was born in the 1930s in the fabled Paris of the Orient, one of the most decadent cities to have ever existed. A storied city of dreams, thousands of times more debaucherous than Las Vegas. And I didn’t know anything about it.
So about ten years ago, I decided to start learning about Shanghai. Just to know about where I come from, ykwim? But it got more involved than I intended, beginning with Stella Dong’s book Shanghai: The Rise and Fall of a Decadent City, then three trips to China, and lots of questions for Dad who’d moved back to Shanghai after living thirty years in America.
Dad is a natural storyteller. I dragged him across Shanghai and pelted him with questions, and over dinners and English-styled high teas, he went on about the Chinese civil war, cricket fights, blind fortune tellers, his father’s small business near Nanjing Road, his cousin — my Uncle Ku — who was once a handsome dance-hall regular, and Uncle Ku’s beautiful socialite mother who died from her opium addiction.
“What was Uncle Ku’s mother’s name?” I ask him in the cafe at the Sassoon House.
“I don’t remember,” says the over-80 dude. “I think it was Ahn Na. Her name meant ‘The beauty that flies over the moon.'”
By then I was thinking to myself, Dad needs to write these stories down.
But my next thought was, Dad is never going to write these stories down.
That’s the first part of why I wrote this book. The second part: Fast-forward to 2009. I was living as a poverty-stricken writer in Berlin, Germany, the artistic capital of the world. My money situation had gotten so excruciating that I had to earn extra cash by working on the weekends in Hamburg, a city two hours away which has the most millionaires per capita than any other European city (did you know that?).
I was painfully poor. In Hamburg, a posh city where they’ve filmed James Bond movies and rents are astronomically high, I was a veritable migrant worker sleeping on a mattress on the floor in my friend Susanne’s apartment and eating fish out of a can. It was sad.
But wait… I’m university educated. Like, expensively university educated.
And Dad as a boy had escaped from the Mao Zedong’s communists in the 1940’s, worked as an interpreter in the Korean War, had sailed three months by rusty cargo ship from Taiwan to the US, gotten his doctorate as one of the few Chinese students in America, and landed a job as a university professor in the 60’s so that his own kids could go to college and have a better life. Yet here I was, sleeping on someone else’s floor in Hamburg and rationing my canned fish.
The irony was heavy for me. I’m not religious or superstitious, but even I thought that if I were my own Chinese ancestors, having survived war and revolution in China during the last centuries, I’d be pissed. Also, my artist life in Berlin was brutal, with the long unpaid work hours and creative explorations that were sometimes so stomach-wrenching that I imagined someone was protecting me, looking after me, to make sure I came out alive.
A guardian angel. A Chinese ancestor, maybe, was watching me. One who understood herself what it was like to dive for the thrill, one who maybe didn’t survive it herself. And henceforth I had the idea of Tita Pasang, a guardian angel who had once been the beautiful, opium-smoking socialite Ahn Na in Old Shanghai.
I eventually wove all these elements — Ahn Na, the blind fortune teller, the rusty cargo ship, Chinese civil war — into my book, Trixi Pudong and the Greater World, a family saga with a magical twist. Find out about it at www.trixipudong.com
And thank you for following my blog tour! The schedule is posted on my own blog gritlands.blogspot.com.
Audrey Mei was born in California. She studied in Boston, where she graduated from New England Conservatory with a BM in cello performance and from Tufts University with a BA in biological psychology. In 1996, she received a Fulbright Grant to study cello at Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland. Although her field was music, the Fulbright Committee was deeply impressed by her writing and greeted her with the question, “When will your first book appear?” Audrey would like to thank the Committee for their enthusiasm and apologizes for the 20-year delay.
Audrey’s writing as appeared in Gangway Literary Magazine and Glimmer Train, among other publications. She spends her time between Berlin and San Francisco with her husband, daughter, and black Havanese dog.