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Joss and Gold, by Shirley Geok-lin Lim.

February 23, 2012

Joss and Gold, by Shirley Geok-lin Lim. The Feminist Press at CUNY (2001), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 240 pages.

Shirley Geok-lin Lim has written a novel set in multi-ethnic Malaysia where a woman moves to self-reliance and reconciliation with her past.

After gaining its independence in the 1960s, Malaysia experienced conflicts among its various ethnic groups. Li An, Lim’s major character, enjoyed friends who were Chinese, Malay, and Islamic, until violence brought tragedy. Looking for safety she had drifted into a marriage with another Chinese, but she was also attracted to an American Peace Corps volunteer, who appears as the “colonizer.” His return to his own country occupies second section of the novel, which I found a diversion from the main story. The last section focuses again on Li An and the successful life she and three other women create in Singapore—a life threatened by her own past.

Lim’s novel is engaging and a revelation to a reader like myself who knew nothing of Malaya history. Lim portrays the violent ethnic divisions from the inside is one of the strengths of the book. Sympathy for the different conflicting groups creates a special tension. Lim herself grew up in Malayasia and maintains close ties there while teaching at the University of California—Santa Barbara. Her own experience in Women’s Studies adds insight in her depiction of Li An and the problems she faces. This is a good, but not a great book.

A recommend read, especially for those wanting to understand more about the global range of women’s experiences.

Related book:

Among the White Moon Faces: an Asian-American Memoir, by Shirley Geok-lin Lim. Her prize-winning autobiography which deals with her experience among feminists in the United States.

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