Father and daughter weave a story of war with Japan and the
subsequent occupation together with the consequences this invasion has upon
their life story. One is a recollection; the other a documentation of personal
experiences. Together the voices blend to tell one seamless story.
The meaning of Hui Gui is returning home and this ideal is the very theme of the story as each character journeys towards home throughout the course of the narrative. The real question then becomes, “What is the personification of home for each of us?” The very ideal that one journeys, and often struggles towards, in order to resolve inner conflict and find true peace and contentment.
For the characters of Hui Gui: A Chinese Story, by Elsie Sze, this definition of home is different for each of them. This yearning for home takes each on their own path and leads them on a journey of self-discovery.
Tak Sing, a young boy when we are first introduced to his character, is thrust into the middle of wartime China, disrupting life as he knows it. This comes first at the hand of external enemies during the Japanese invasion; then China faces a war within as communism takes over as the governing body. This radically affects and changes the social structure as it had hitherto been known.
Having reduced his opulent family to peasant farmers, Tak Sing is forced to seek refuge in Hong Kong so that his future progress may not be hindered by the ideals of the Communistic regime. Leaving his family and friends, he is thrust into a foreign culture and community with only his virtue and integrity for companions.
It is in this land of opportunity that he meets and marries Lily, who is ironically the one character in the novel unable to forgive the past, preventing her from embracing the future. This message seems to work at odds with the theme of the book.
Serena, their daughter, is the result of merging these two worlds together. Her responsibility is to document the story of her mother while at the same time uncovering the role she plays in her own future. Where one voice ends in the story, the next begins. Yet the story is one; a continuation of past, present and future. It is Serena’s voice that brings these components together. The book ends with Serena’s conviction that it is her duty to finish writing Papa’s book. While the reader is left questioning what she means by such a sentiment, there is the understanding that through Serena will live the continuation of familial ideals; that she will seek to find a balance and live life to the fullest, thus discovering peace, happiness and fulfillment along the way.
Ultimately, we are all writing our own stories. The question is if we will ever finish. Indeed, we’re all a book in progress.
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