“Reading is a powerful activity: it calms one’s heart. When the mind is quiet, one can experience real joy.”
Starting with the viral poem Crossing Half of China to Fuck You, Yu Xiuhua’s raw collection chronicles her life as a disabled, divorced, single mother in rural China. In defiance of the stigma attached to her disability, her status as a divorced single mother, and as a peasant in rural China, Yu found her voice in poetry.
I know that I am going to be in the minority, but I actually liked the essays in this collection more than the poetry. There. I said it. The poetry just didn’t really speak to me, but that’s fine. Poetry is very subjective. There were a few very pretty lines, but I couldn’t pick out one poem where it spoke to me as a whole. Mostly it was just phrases and lines here and there. Which is unfortunate, because I mostly picked this up for the poetry and not the essays.
However, after having lived in China for almost four years, I found the essays to be more interesting. They speak to a society that is very conformative, but never being able to conform because of the authors cerebral palsy. They speak of people seeking more pain in her poetry than they have any right to. People trying to judge how much she has suffered by equating suffering with a disability. They speak of someone longing to find someone to love and who loves them in return. Someone who is lonely, whether in part by choice or not.
My favorite part is when she discusses what it means to be a strong woman and rejection of the word strong in general.
“A strong woman is essentially an unfortunate being who can’t lean on others for help. In a way, her life is a failure. Fortunately, neither success nor failure is shameful or shocking in life: because of a failed life, her life lies right before her own eyes. We do not live to show others what our lives are, nor do we live to please anyone…. Strength is, therefore, about ourselves…”
I highlighted huge chunks of a few of her essays, but the section where she speaks on the “lofty” words that she rejects was my favorite.
Overall, I would still recommend this for people looking for some poetry perhaps with an international flair or perhaps for an Asian Read-a-thon. I have faith that either the poetry or the essays will speak to a lot of people and maybe you’ll be lucky enough that both of them speak to you. I look forward to seeing more by Yu Xiuhua in the future.
Have you read Moonlight Rests on My Left Palm? What did you think? Did you prefer the poems or the essays? Let me know in the comments below!
Translator: Fiona Sze-Lorrain
Length: 156 pages
Published: September 14, 2021 by Astra House
Content Warning: Domestic Abuse, Pain, Suffering, Discussions around disability
Awards: None, yet.
Also by: This is her first collection in English.
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