All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Tiger Daughter by Rebecca Lim

on July 26, 2021

Tiger Daughter
Rebecca Lim
Allen & Unwin
2021, 206p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: What I feel most days is that nothing is ever going to change. That my life won’t even start, and that I’ll be stuck like this forever. Wen Zhou is the only child of Chinese immigrants whose move to the lucky country has proven to be notso lucky. Wen and her friend, Henry Xiao — whose mum and dad are also struggling immigrants — bothdream of escape from their unhappy circumstances, and form a plan to sit an entrance exam to a selectivehigh school far from home. But when tragedy strikes, it will take all of Wen’s resilience and resourcefulness to get herself and Henry through the storm that follows.

Tiger Daughter is a novel that will grab hold of you and not let go.

This was a short but incredibly powerful read.

Wen is a teenage girl living in Australia, born to migrant parents. Her father was a doctor in China but hasn’t passed the surgeon’s exam in Australia and so he works as a manager in a Chinese restaurant and the bitterness about this, is extreme. He runs the household with an iron fist, imposing a lot of rules and regulations – even though she’s a teenager, Wen’s mother still walks her to and from school every day. They are to make no stops on the way and her father rings every day at 4pm to make sure. Wen isn’t allowed to socialist outside of school at all and her free time is taken up with homework, extra lessons and practice: music, Chinese calligraphy, maths (which she struggles with a lot).

Her friend Henry excels at maths but has a lot of trouble with English (both the language and the subject) and Wen is trying to help him improve in both for the entrance exam he desperately wants to sit. Henry sees getting into this school as a kind of magic solution to a lot of their problems and although Wen has agreed to sit it with him and their teacher (who used to teach at the school they’re aiming to get into) thinks they are both excellent chances, Wen hasn’t told her parents. She knows her father would never allow her to go, especially because the school is a considerable distance from her house. But also because as a daughter, she’s a disappointment and he’s quick to tell her that as well as berate her about her lack of intelligence each time she doesn’t understand maths.

There’s so much conveyed here, not just Wen’s experience as the child of immigrants but the story of her parents as well and their struggle to build a new life in a country that is not always friendly. Wen’s father faces chronic disappointment and shame that he’s doing the job he is and I feel that he often takes his frustrations about that out on his family. For the most part, Wen’s mother is cowed, living with the fear as Wen puts it, fear of her father’s temper and outbursts. When a tragedy happens with Henry’s family, at first Wen’s mother wants to keep her distance, not get involved, employing a traditional (I think?) attitude towards it. But Wen won’t accept that and she begs her mother to leave food, to accompany her so she can leave homework for Henry when he cannot leave the house.

These small acts give Wen’s mother some confidence, as does an interaction or two with the lady who runs the local pharmacy. Wen begins to see her mother in a different light I think, to wonder about the person she might have been before she married Wen’s father or before the difficulties of life in a new country. Wen’s mother is capable and has a compassionate side that has perhaps been kept hidden – and despite her words, I get the feeling that she could relate to that tragedy much more than she would ever let on.

It was really wonderful reading about both Wen and her mother empowering themselves, about their small acts of rebellion that lead to opportunity. Wen’s mother is basically trapped in the apartment each day, only allowed out to purchase food and given a strict household budget (that seems to be deliberately not enough, just to see what she can do with it, but that could just be the way I view it). It’s obvious that Wen’s father is so miserable in his job where he deals with micro aggressions and racism, where he has to obviously bite his tongue and “yes sir” his way through it that all that rage and frustration has no where to go but to spill over at home. His reactions to things are incredibly out of proportion to the events and quite frankly, are abusive.

Wen’s inner rage at her restrictions comes through so clearly, as does the ways in which she has to dampen her thoughts and actions down, become less, become more, conform to the ideals of the perfect child. Except she’s not a boy, so she can’t ever be perfect and it’s getting harder and harder for her to hold her tongue, to do as she’s told without questioning. Towards the end, she uses her father’s own lecturing back at him, to prove a point and showcase his own hypocrisy and it’s kind of glorious.

This is not an easy read but I was so engrossed in the story. The thing that pins it all together is Wen’s relationship with her mother and how Wen’s own actions actually give her mother the confidence to rebel in her own ways, to perhaps take back some of who she had been, before her marriage, the move, a country where she isn’t confident in the language. Wen’s mother grows stronger in many ways as her daughter does and perhaps it’s seeing the person her daughter is, that reminds her of who she is.

Not going to lie, the ending felt a fraction easy or quick, but the rest of it was so good that I didn’t mind.

9/10

Book #126 of 2021

This book is the #53rd read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2021


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