Lisa See Writes Again
DESTRY-DESTINY-DYNASTY: I want to talk about my special friend Lisa, who like Destry, wins heroic respect in unfamiliar territory, and like La Forza del Destino, swirls out with another new novel, Dreams of Joy, while awaiting the opening of the motion picture version of her best selling novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.
Lisa See is the first daughter of my childhood friend, the renowned writer Carolyn See. Carolyn married Richard See while still a college student. They went to Paris in the mid-50s and came home with baby Lisa. I’ve known Lisa as dreamy child with silken red hair and fair complexion, lovely and practical. She attended Loyola Marymount University where her mom, by then Dr. See, was an English professor. In my memory, Lisa loved the diverse dancing opportunities there, and was a tremendous help when Carolyn put on Literary Seminars with famous authors sharing their wisdom with the lucky students.
An unforgettable imprint was the time we spent with a guru of sorts called Leo Sunshine. Motivational mantras and marching around rooms declaring, “I deserve the very best,” and “Yes, I know!” while chewing on money, feeling prosperous and being Radiant Beings, while releasing victim-hood. It was a dopey time, but you know, it didn’t hurt. I didn’t think of Lisa as a writer, just a beautiful and smart young woman. Then a few stories trickled into magazines and suddenly Lisa See was West Coast correspondent for Publishers Weekly! Then came the time when Lisa joined her mom and John Espey, writing under the pen name Monica Highland and publishing three books: Lotus Land, 110 Shanghai Road, and Greetings from Southern California.
In the meantime, Lisa married the superbly darling and totally supportive Richard Kendall and had two precious sons, Alexander and Christopher. And now, as fine young men, they attended a glorious book party at the Broad Theatre Patio last weekend along with family, friends and fans to celebrate Lisa and her new Dreams of Joy.
It seems like just time moments ago, in the early 1990s, when Lisa dropped by my house for an interview of my memories about the early days of the See family. The Chinese side of her family has had a great impact on her life and work. Little did I dream that this would be a part of her painstaking research for her masterpiece non-fiction book, On Gold Mountain. From this best seller, came an opera (Lisa wrote the libretto), and has helped develop the Family Discovery Gallery for the Autry Museum, which depicts 1930s Los Angeles from the perspective of her father as a seven-year-old boy. Her exhibition “On Gold Mountain: A Chinese American Experience” is now at the Smithsonian!
It’s tricky to fathom the depth of Lisa’s success, from On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family, and the novels Flower Net, The Interior, Dragon Bones, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love and Shanghai Girls (2010 New York Times bestseller list) — so much seriousness from the light hearted girl who had a wedding shower in my backyard a few dreamy years/(decades) ago. And now as a reader, I’m eager to follow Pearl and May, the sisters from Shanghai Girls, and the adventurous strong-willed teen daughter, Joy.
Quoting Lisa See, “What mother hasn’t worried when she’s seen her child making a life-changing mistake? What mother hasn’t tried to ‘fix’ things for her child, only to make things worse? (But we make things better most of the time, right?) What mother hasn’t at some point had to hide her sadness, anger, and grief, as Pearl does?” Yes and Oy.
Speaking of making things better, David sends regrets that the name of the superb country house hotel was misspelled in our last travel column. Google it, for a look at its wonders. For the record, it is STON EASTON PARK.
Ending with a toast of praise and pride to my dearest Lisa See.