Mrs. Spring Fragrance

Modern Library. (Modern Library Torchbearers). May 2021. 192p. ISBN 9780593241202. pap. $16. F
Originally published in 1912, these deceptively charming stories reveal the forces of racism, gender inequality, and assimilation at play in the bubbling multicultural stew of Seattle’s and San Francisco’s Chinatowns, over a century ago. Sui Sin Far was the Cantonese pen name adopted by Cheshire-born Edith Maude Eaton (1865–1914), whose mother was Chinese and whose father was a white Briton. In a brief, insightful introduction to this volume, novelist C Pam Zhang observes that Sui Sin Far’s prose has the cadence and elevated perspective of fable, resulting in stories that feel like a curious mix of social realism and fairy tale. Written at the height of the virulent anti-Asian “Yellow Peril,” when Sui Sin Far lived in the States, these diverting family dramas of romance, sacrifice, and cultural conflict and confusion sought to portray nuanced Chinese American characters and to reconcile people of all races. Sui Sin Far poignantly expresses this motive in her memoir/essay “Leaves from the Mental Portfolio of a Eurasian,” also in this volume.
VERDICT Combining quaintness with flashes of subversion, this collection is both a vital historical snapshot and a depressingly timely reminder of fundamental human dignity across race and culture.
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