Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Book review: The ugly daughter, by Julia Legian

Written sometimes with the candid fervour of the child who went through all the episodes of poverty, violence and neglect, Julia Legian first volume of her memoir is very challenging for the reader. Born and raised in Vietnam for the first years of her life, Julia recounts in small details her first years of life, till the escape by boat to Malaysia and further on, to Australia, where she lives today. 
Reading the short presentation of her current and recent past professional activities might be difficult to imagine the raw poverty she lived in as a child. Often beaten by her parents, part of a highly dysfunctional family, frequently going to sleep hungry and without the hope of a compensatory breakfast in the morning, she was able to built in her country of adoption a career in real estate, a family and now, a future as a writer. Normal achievements from our Western perspective, but almost impossible successes in the Vietnam of her childhood, a country carrying the scars of wars and poverty. 
This first sequence has so many episodes of cruelty - of the parents, children, destiny itself. It has frequent references to toilets or rather the lack thereof and descriptions of human remains, especially in the classrooms. Only those fragments and it may be enough in understanding the difficult situation of the Vietnamese society at the end of the 1970s. Despite all those shortages and daily difficulties, going to school was by far one of the favourite activities, as it offered a break from the regular confrontations of the parents. As expected, she had some spiritual/religious awakenings that although unusual, helped her to maintain a certain level of sanity
The memoir is built through detailed descriptions of various encounters and events, with vague references to political events under way or that finished a couple of years before. Although the details provided are interesting for the understanding the society and history, I found it a bit too long and with plenty of details not necessarily bringing something new to the narrative. The information was so rich that I completely got lost in the specific chronology: how many years past actually since the beginning of the story? The writing is simple, not necessarily catching up, but keeping an informative level. 
Despite those ups and downs, the story is interesting and I am curious to find out what happened next, after the request for emigrating to Australia was finally accepted. How this problematic heritage was turned into added value and how the little girl ignored and belittled by all rose on her feet and won her existential autonomy? 

Disclaimer: I was offered a complimentary copy by the author, but the opinions are, as always, my own.