Thursday, November 25, 2010

Historical Fiction and Gratitude

In addition to plowing through the complete works of William Shakespeare (I'm over halfway through!), I'm also reading a book a friend lent me. It's Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. The story follows the fortunes of two Chinese girls living in Shanghai just before World War II. They are forced into arranged marriages to Chinese-American men by their father shortly before the Japanese invade. They flee the city, and, after much hardship, arrive in America to be reunited with their husbands, only to find that they must work hard to build a future in America.

Historical novels can give us the experience of what is was like to live in a certain era, but these aren't always pleasant ones. The sisters endure poverty, assault by soldiers, confinement for months on Angel Island while their immigration status is questions, and problems with their in-laws. They also experience discrimination from other Chinese for being women and discrimination from white people for being Chinese.

Reading books like this reminds me of how much I take for granted in my daily life. I've never had to lack for food or proper medical care. I've never had to endure the horrors or war or the daily struggles with poverty. And while there are still some ways in which women are not equal to men (such as pay and personal safety), I have opportunities and rights far beyond those of the sisters in See's book. When our basic needs are met, we're not content but strive for higher things on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. I guess today is a good day to look downward, not just up.

Are there any historical books you've read that make you appreciate your current situation more? Do you feel that our lives are better or worse than our ancestors'?

If you celebrate Thanksgiving, thanks for stopping by today, and enjoy the holiday! After NaNoWriMo finishes up next week, I'll return to blogging more frequently.

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