Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Fortunate daughter

Posted By on Wed, May 6, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Part memoir, part historical narrative, Lucky Girl journeys across borders, both literal and figurative — those of life, of countries, family, class and race, of language, culture, love and loss.

Born in Taiwan, the sixth daughter of poor farmers who wanted a son, not another "worthless daughter" (the fifth sister's nickname, Awan, means "no more girls"), Mei-Ling was given up and placed in the care of Sister Maureen for the first eight months of her life before coming home to her new Michigan parents, Chris and Rollie Hopgood, in Taylor.

"I slipped into American life easily, as if I was always meant to be there."

Mei-Ling Hopgood was an active, straight-A student, a cheerleader, basically an all-American girl from "a typical Midwestern family with a very atypical look."

With two white parents, a Chinese daughter and two Korean sons, the Hopgoods stood out, especially in "Taylortucky," where "when I arrived ... only about 1 percent was Asian. I figured my brothers and I made up a notable part of that 1 percent."

At 23, a budding journalist with a rising career at a St. Louis paper (she got her start at the Detroit Free Press), Mei-Ling's life turned upside down when Sister Maureen, now living in Allen Park, said her birth family wanted to meet her.

Initially overwhelmed with the excitement of meeting her extensive blood family, in the book, Mei-Ling soaks up modern Taiwan and revels in the company of her sisters.

With concise, truth-seeking deftness of a seasoned journalist, Mei-Ling delves into the political, cultural and financial reasoning behind her Chinese birth parents' decision to put her up for adoption.

As she unearths a host of unsavory family secrets, she realizes that, while bound by her self-imposed duty to love them, she doesn't particularly like her "ma and ba." (Among other atrocities, her parents actually gave her up in lieu of an adopted son; they let an older brother born with a cleft lip starve to death; and they tried to give up poor Awan more than once.)

Cut with historical detail and touching accounts of Mei-Ling's "real" family, the Hopgoods, Lucky Girl is a refreshingly upbeat take on dealing with the pressures and expectations of family, while remaining true to oneself.

Simple, to the point and uncluttered of the everyday minutiae, Mei-Ling Hopgood nails the concept of becoming one's own; that is, a person shaped by family ties, but not bound to them. Lucky girl indeed.


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