Essay Topic 1
The author of Family Matters uses flashback to fill in parts of the story. Through whose eyes do we experience the flashbacks and how are they important to the story? Do the flashbacks help you learn any more about the character than what the front story tells? Is this a useful technique to employ in this story? Why/why not?
Essay Topic 2
Nariman is kept from following his heart by the tenets of his religious belief. What is this belief? How does it control his life? Is that a good thing? How could his life have been different if he had followed his heart?
Essay Topic 3
Compare and contrast the living conditions at Chateau Felicity and Pleasant Villa. How does each location impact the story, and what do you learn about the characters from their association with the two different homes?
Essay Topic 4
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Maybe something worthwhile can come from pornography?
Or at least, from the writer who comes up with the naughty ideas.
Witness the Sees – mother, Carolyn, and daughter, Lisa. Both writers and novelists of national renown.
The Sees will talk about why pornography matters in their family – and other more relevant topics — at the annual WomanSage luncheon at the Doubletree Resort in Anaheim on May 16.
The event, which also honors nine Orange County women for contributions to community, is dubbed “Family Matters.”
So the question was: How did writing become such a family obsession?
“My father was a pornographer,” Carolyn tells me.
“He always wanted to be a writer. But he ended up publishing 73 volumes of pornography.
“He was very witty. He loved words; he loved literature. To him, writing was the highest calling.”
He may have been a philanderer, as Carolyn says, but evidently he also raised her well. She is a writer, critic and retired adjunct professor of English at UCLA. She also is the author of 10 books, including “There Will Never Be Another You” and “The Handyman.”
Now retired from teaching, she lives in Santa Monica, reviews books for The Washington Post and lives, what she terms, “a very pleasant life.”
Meanwhile, her daughter, Lisa See, 54, took the family talent a step further.
She was born in Paris and grew up in Los Angeles, “but we moved around quite a bit and Chinatown (her father’s home) became my home base. It never changed.”
In her writing, Lisa See explores her biracial heritage and aspects of women and the Chinese heritage.
Her first book, “On Gold Mountain: The One Hundred Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family” was a best-seller. In 2005, she published “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” a book her mother calls “a masterpiece.” It became a worldwide best-seller translated into 38 languages.
On May 26, her next book, “Shanghai Girls,” will be published. She will take orders for autographed copies from luncheon guests, she says.
The tale is about two sisters who leave Shanghai and come to Los Angeles in arranged marriages in 1937. “They thought they were marrying Gold Mountain men but when they got here, they were treated more like servants,” Lisa says. “Of course, that is only part of the tensions.”
She also wanted to recapture the essence of the Los Angeles Chinatown, “The people who meant so much to me, who made me what I am today. It will all be gone shortly and that sense of loss – we all go through it somewhere – that feeling of loss for the people and places that make us who we are is the emotional heart of the book. It’s a love letter to Los Angeles.”
The ties – the links that “Family Matters” – never really diminish, say both the writers.
Writing, Carolyn See says, allows her to explore herself and explore relationships.
“I just finished an essay – I write mostly short pieces now – and I am incredibly pleased and surprised with the result. It’s supposedly about streetcars in old LA but I came to be writing about my mother taking me to see Josephine Baker and crazy jazz musicians and I realized my mother was taking me because my father was off philandering.
“What you get with writing is that things become known to you that you hadn’t known before you started and that’s a huge gift.”
Carolyn understands gifts. She is losing her eyesight to macular degeneration. And, she says, what is worse is that she is getting old.
“Everything changes,” she says. “And when people say everything, they mean everything. We lose people we love and the newspaper we read. Everything falls away and something else takes its place.
“One goes on and finds other kinds of weird pleasures. Like going out to lunch. I didn’t do much of that when I was younger and working.”
She pauses. “It’s not sad,” she says. “It is what it is.”
By contrast, Lisa See is still in the midst of life’s excitement.
“A son just proposed marriage and there’s a wedding in our future,” she says. “Our other son is a second year law student.”
For Lisa, there are at least two books ahead, she says.
She just returned from China where she stayed for some time in a 17th century house in a tiny village in Anhui Province. She had no heat, no hot water. “I absorbed the atmosphere,” she says.
Writing a book, she explains, is a solitary experience.
“When you’re writing in a room alone, you don’t know about others. You think ‘no one is going to read this thing.’ It’s out of my own head and heart and it’s hard to imagine people really connecting to it.”
And when they do connect, the life-change can be incredible!
“I have a web site, www.lisasee.com, where people can write to me and I spend about two hours every day answering e-mails from all around the world.
“It really has been an amazing experience how people responded to the story of Snow Flower, which is mainly about friendships.”
Friends, she says, are just like sisters. “Sometimes we go through phases where we are not close and then we are close,” she says. “You can get to the point where a parent’s ailment, for example, can bring you together or push you apart. Strengths and weaknesses come out.”
Family matters, she says.
Writing “Shanghai Girls” has heightened her definition of “home.”
“When you have family and you leave your home country you have a different sense of what is home. What do you give up? What do you keep? All the experiences, the family that stays inside you and makes you what you are. We all share that.”
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