I trooped over to the Huntington on Tuesday morning for a tour of the new Garden of Flowing Fragrance (aka the Chinese Garden) tied into a book signing and talk by author Lisa See, whose latest work, Shanghai Girls, just hit the shelves. The L.A. native has a large and devout national following, with goodly time on the New York Times bestseller list to prove it, but nowhere are her fans more loyal than here in Southern California. It was clear that most of the couple of hundred people in the auditorium after the garden tour had read her family memoir, On Gold Mountain, and her several novels, including Flower Net, Peony in Love and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, and they could hardly wait to get their hands on the new book, which follows the story of two Chinese sisters in their journeys from Shanghai in the 1930s to L.A.’s Chinatown in the 1950s.
Aside from the maturing beauty of the garden, which I hadn’t seen since it was brand new and a little bare, the delight of the tour was a good long chat my friend Edie Parker and I had with docent Therese Lieu, a Chinese woman from Taiwan who was educated in New York and Paris, who speaks Mandarin, English and French, who had wonderful stories and who gave us great restaurant advice (hint: Newport Seafood in Arcadia).
For the indoor part of the morning, event organizer Julie Robinson of Literary Affairs asked just enough questions of Lisa See to keep the vastly entertaining stories coming — tales of her Chinese father’s family’s adventures and travails in Sacramento, Los Angeles and Pasadena; descriptions of life in Shanghai in the 1930s; what it was like for the liberated women who lived in the “Paris of the East” to emigrate to restricted Chinatowns in the United States; why relationships between women, especially sisters, are so rich for novelists; and how her creative process develops in the course of writing a book.
And now to read the book itself. More on that later.