Monday, June 2, 2014
The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff
Deshi Li is the younger son, and clearly his older brother was the favored one. His parent doted on him. As the book progresses, we learn about the older son and how he was not quite as perfect as his parents thought. Deshi struggles with his guilt over the part he played in his brother's death, which he does not tell his parents about. Deshi Li does not believe in the custom of burying unmarried men with a woman to keep them company, but he is determined to do this for his brother and to give his parents a reason to take pride and comfort in him.
Deshi is a scared and timid character. We really learn very little about him, even over the entire course of the story. It's not clear what motivates him, aside from fear of his parent's and guilt about his brother. What does he want? What does he hope for? I have no idea. We learn much more about Lily.
Lily is the daughter of poor farmers, who are about to be evicted from their land. Lily's father seems on the verge of offering her in marriage to a man she can't stand. Lily is short-tempered and headstrong, that is clear from the start. She is not the diligent daughter her father would prefer. Lily runs away when Deshi Li passes by. Lily is constantly talking, telling of her dreams for when they arrive in Beijing (which is where she thinks Deshi is headed) which include tasting ice cream and going to a movie theater. She acts without thinking, selling Deshi's mule for a motorcycles so they can move faster, without asking, and the motorcycle of course is a dud.
Deshi does not want Lily tagging along with him. He has a mission, and it's not one he wants to let anyone know about. He continues trying to find a woman's body while hiding it from Lily. Deshi is also being searched for by a man he hired to get find him a body.
Song X was another character whose motivation I didn't really understand. He accepts Deshi's money and takes him to a graveyard to dig up a body. The body is old and rotted, and Deshi says he can't bring it back. Someone approaches and they run, getting separated. For the rest of the story, Song X is trying to find Deshi so he can finish business with him. At first I thought that was nice. I expected Song X to take off. He had the money, he could have just left. Instead he searches for Deshi to finish the job. But then, at the end, when Song X finds Deshi, he goes to such extremes, and I didn't understand why. Why was it so important to him to finish the job? Why would he stop at nothing? I couldn't understand why it mattered so much.
Deshi becomes more desperate, and begins to consider killing Lily. He doesn't want to, but he can't imagine going back to his parent's with nothing.
The art was lovely watercolor, but jarringly cartoonish. The pictures didn't seem to match with the story, which was very dark. Perhaps that was intentional, but it wasn't working for me. The pieces didn't seem to fit together.
It was a strange story, full of characters whose actions I couldn't understand. Maybe I was missing something important. That's happened before.