Elevate Difference

Forget Sorrow: An Ancestral Tale

I jumped at the chance to review Forget Sorrow: An Ancestral Tale, an unconventional graphic memoir from writer/artist Belle Yang. While I am no expert on graphic literature, I did devour Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis series. With this medium, I enjoy (and envy) the way an artist can show emotions through inked illustrations, and use words more sparingly. Further, there is an intimacy created on the page, because the typeface and conversational style evoke a personal journal lying on a nightstand.

Yang is a Chinese-American woman, and her story, in part, tells of the identity struggles she experiences in separating from the Chinese traditions of her immigrant parents. When she travels to Beijing for art school, Yang has a chance to learn cultural history while not being bound to it.

At the outset of her tale, we see the source of Yang’s title: her Chinese name, Xuan, means “Forget Sorrow.” When Yang was thirty years old, she sought shelter from a violent boyfriend by moving back to her parents’ home. While there, she began to give shape to her father’s childhood stories in Japanese-occupied Manchuria, World War II, and Mao’s Great Leap Forward. Yang writes, “I have a voice in America. I won’t waste it.”

The art in Forget Sorrow is tender, powerful, and moving. One ink illustration that stands out is Yang’s nightmare about her abuser, which captures a feeling of stark terror. In contrast, Yang’s illustrations also evoke tenderness between father and daughter, a feeling of comfort for him as he shares painful memories.

Yang’s story demonstrates ways in which strength comes from relationships. Her father’s tales are painful at times. Under communism, family relationships were made subordinate to party affiliation. Important aspects of tradition, such as honoring elders, did not apply if those elders were deemed to be landlords or capitalists. The political side of Yang’s family story makes it very clear that social change should not come at the cost of human life or dignity.

Through telling her family’s story as well as exercising her voice and her artistic vision in Forget Sorrow, Yang found new freedom. As a writer, artist, and woman, she shapes her own future.

Written by: Lisa Rand, August 23rd 2010