Repeat After Me
Rachel DeWoskin’s debut novel, Repeat After Me, is a cultural love story between two people whose lives briefly intertwine. Afterwards, they are never the same again. The story follows the relationship between a young neurotic ESL teacher in Manhattan, Aysha Silvermintz, and her student, Da Ge, a mysterious, silent, Chinese national who comes to the U.S. just after the Tienanmen Square uprisings.
Whatever they may lack in communication skills, they compensate for in emotional understanding. Both come from difficult families and have personal baggage to deal with. The day Da Ge walks into Aysha's classroom, Aysha begins to fall in love with him. After they spend time together, Da Ge abruptly asks Aysha to marry him so he can obtain his U.S. citizenship. When Aysha becomes pregnant, she does not tell Da Ge right away because she is not sure how he will react. Sometimes, he is distant from her, while other times, he is emotionally close. He also spends days away from the apartment without telling her where has been and she does not question him. He only says he has ‘business.’
Da Ge married her for citizenship. But, Aysha married him for more. She married for love and his ideals. The tension of what this arrangement entailed constantly lingered in their interactions. Then, one day Da Ge takes off again and after a few days, Aysha finally goes looking for him. She finds that he has committed suicide. To make sense of his life and death, she moves to China to deliver and raise her child.
DeWoskin writes her novel in a multicultural narrative which immediately captivates a reader’s attention. Her writing is emotional, graceful, and provocative filled with beautiful, sometimes painful images. But her story is always focused on the human spirit. The characters she portrays are seekers trying to find answers in the world, trying to follow a path, and find peace. The torment in Da Ge was too great. He was a child of Tiananmen Square. His continuous teachings to Aysha of China, both of its past and present, illustrate his internal struggle of wanting a democracy in China. The physical bruises and scars are manifestations of his fight with the powers that be. His willingness to learn English and his inability to survive in new culture surface a wounded soul. Aysha needed to go to China to discover a peace for herself. She had to now practice Da Ge’s teachings. After years of living alone, she now would become a nurturer to her child. She wanted to be as close as possible to Da Ge’s spirit as possible with all the tastes, smells, culture, and reminders. This would be her salvation.
DeWoskin’s novel is character-driven and sophisticated, but does not lack in plot. She vividly describes her characters' moods, expressions, habits, and desires without giving too much away. Readers will not get bored. She gives her readers enough information so they will care about her characters. She engages them to read on. This is a rare talent. The story is also one which is bittersweet, and is told with raw honesty.