By Mei-Ling Hopgood
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill 2009
Reviewed by Alice Folkart
Mei-ling Hopgood’s Lucky Girl, a Memoir, maps the author’s journey of self-discovery. Hopgood was one of the first Asian children adopted by Americans after the Korean War. She was brought to the Midwest and given the best of everything, but, as she grew up, never felt as if she belonged. She became the perfect child–smart, talented, charming and popular. But, always wondered if there were anyplace where she would fit in.
This unease informs her childhood and teen years, and upon graduating from college, her adoptive parents reveal to her that she had not been orphaned, but had been given away. They encourage her to connect with her birth family, and so she makes the trip to Asia. She arrives in Taiwan and, surrounded by crowds of people who all look like her, for the first time in her life feels at home.
Overjoyed, she meets her mother, father and a gaggle of sisters, but her elation is short-lived as she encounters an almost impenetrable wall of language, culture, secrets and misunderstandings. Even a well-meaning sister, the only one who speaks any English, cannot help her scale it.
Mei-ling’s tragedy is that in finally finding her roots, she discovers that she’ll never be able to return to them. She is neither wholly Asian nor completely American, and she realizes that she may never fit in anywhere. The final irony is that she later settles in Argentina with her journalist husband, settles for being a permanent alien.
In Taiwan, she is lovingly accepted by her sisters, works hard to connect with her tradition-hugging birth mother, develops a strong dislike of her greedy, feckless father, and stumbles upon shocking family secrets. She learns that she and another sister had been given up for adoption because of their father’s greed and drive for a male heir-as he says, someone to worship him after he is gone, something that in the Taoist scheme of things daughters are not fit to do. Her birth mother had little say in the matter. The adoptions were arranged without her agreement, prices set, and the two little girls more or less sold.
The central question of the book is, “Is Mei-ling Hopgood a ‘lucky girl?” Her sisters say that she was lucky that she wasn’t sold to a Taiwanese family that would have raised her to be sold into a brothel at puberty. At least, they say, “You went to America, to nice people. That was ‘lucky.'” She was ‘lucky’ to be treasured by her American family, to be given every advantage, even the opportunity to explore her origins. But, she feels ‘unlucky.’ Hers has been, as the Chinese say, an ‘interesting life.’
Unfortunately, Ms Hopgood doesn’t have the story-telling skills to bring her tale to life. Lucky Girl, is a taxing read. The author’s English is awkward, almost as if it were a learned language. Poor or wrong word choices disturb the flow of the prose; the narrative voice is unstable, ranging from girl-friend chattiness to dry reportage; problems with matters of fact leave the reader wondering. And, finally, awkward phrasing and a plethora of grammatical errors give the book an amateurish air,
Lucky Girl does not have the polish of professional work. In fact, were it not for the author’s acknowledgments to an editor and an agent, one would think that manuscript was an early draft that had not yet been edited.
Mei-ling Hopgood’s Lucky Girl, a Memoir, might interest other cross-cultural adoptees and/or their parents, but would likely not engage the fastidious general reader.
About Alice Folkart
Alice Folkart, a California transplant, lives and write on the island of Oahu. Her short fiction, reviews and poetry have been published in many on-line and print journals. She co-directs an on-line poetry workshop and helps to administer the Practice forum of the Internet Writing Workshop. Her cat weighs 22 lbs. Her husband plays the trombone.