“Chinese Almanac” - A Short Story by Elaine Chiew - from her Debut Collection The Heartsick Diaspora - 2020
Gateway to Elaine Chiew on The Reading Life.
This is the ninth story from Elaine Chiew’s Collection, The Heartsick Diaspora I have so far featured on The Reading Life. In prior stories we have seen Singapore citizens living in London and New York City. Today we find ourselves in a slightly less glamorous locale, Morristown, New Jersey. Our narrator is a young man, his parents were from Mainland China. He is a doctor, living out the immigrant parent’s dream. He is gay, a secret kept from his parents.
His parents are in a close knit social circle with three other couples. All are from Mainland China but for one woman a Singapore Chinese. His father looks to The Chinese Almanac to give him guidance.
Here is an interior monologue from the narrator:
“My father Lives by the Chinese Almanac ( 通勝 ) – it tells fortunes. Like when might be a good day to marry your lover or move house or landscape a garden. Me, I have no truck with that kind of hocus-pocus. Keep it simple. Two rules: you don’t turn down food; you stay the fuck out of your parents’ love life.”
They have been in the USA a long time but they cling to Chinese ways. As is often the case, their ABC children are very American.
There is entertaining drama in the story centering on the matrimonial issues of his parents and his closeted sexual orientation.
The story can be viewed as an account of how immigrants try to keep their identity while accepting the trappings of American culture. The story takes place during the very American holiday of Thanksgiving. There is a delightful sequence regarding eating a turkey with chopsticks. We also go along at the young man’s job and get an insight into the filial duties of a Chinese son when his parents have a bad falling out. We get to meet his sister Tina.
Chinese Almanac” - A Short Story by Elaine Chiew - from her Debut Collection The Heartsick Diaspora - 2020 gives us a look at another aspect of a Diaspora.
I look forward to posting on the remaining five stories.
I give this collection my highest endorsement.
Elaine is a writer and a visual arts researcher, and editor of Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around the World (New Internationalist, 2015).
Twice winner of the Bridport Short Story Competition, she has published numerous stories in anthologies in the UK, US and Singapore.
Originally from Malaysia, Chiew graduated from Stanford Law School and worked as a corporate securities lawyer in New York and Hong Kong before studying for an MA in Asian Art History at Lasalle College of the Arts Singapore, a degree conferred by Goldsmiths, University of London.
Elaine lives in Singapore and her book, The Heartsick Diaspora, and other stories, was published by Myriad in 2020 as well as in a Penquin Books Edition.