Lily in the Snow by Yan LiNovember 22nd, 2010 by David Lam
Women’s Press, Toronto, Ontario, 2009, 379 pages
Lily in the Snow by Beijing-born Yan Li explores the complex relationship between Lily, a single Chinese immigrant mother living in the Ontario township of Mapleton and her mother Grace who comes to visit.
In spite of her background as a journalist, Lily is submerged in a series of dead end jobs in Canada, raising a child with Grace perched over her shoulder, criticizing everything from Lily’s choice of clothing, to her lack of ambition, to her choice of men.
Li’s deft narrative shuttles between present and past, revealing the hidden formative experiences of both women told in densely woven flashbacks of shared and individual lives in China. The reader learns of the source of personal scars acquired from heartbreak, unrealized potential, and dreams collapsed under the weight of impossibility.
Li’s gift is the ability to describe without romantic embellishment the forces that shape her characters. The author’s voice rings true in her depiction of immigrant life as a seemingly endless march of disappointments punctuated with glimpses of hope that tomorrow will be better if only incrementally. But there is also the immigrant community that makes living in the new land bearable and Li has a cast of colorful, vibrant characters populating Lily’s world.
Over the course of a year together, Lily and Grace are like two chairs back to back, entrenched in opposition; face to face, locked in confrontation; and then finally, side to side with distance still between them but with new perspectives on each other and on themselves.