Farewell to Distant Land

March 30th, 2007 by admin

“The Distant Land of My Father” resonates with universal appeal. There are many themes in the novel and it’s easy to see how each reader can claim those special parts that touch their hearts and their lives. How many of us have had to say goodbye to our fathers. How many of us keep very private and colorful memories of the sun setting over friendly waters. Bo Caldwell’s novel is surprisingly soft and intense at the same time.

Thank you to everyone who participated in our first One City, One Story blog. I hope it was a fun project both for those who posted information and for those who checked in each day to see what was new. We covered a fascinating array of subjects related to this year’s One City, One Story selection, “Distant Land of My Father”. So long for now….

Themes of Cultural Identity

March 28th, 2007 by admin

In The Distant Land of My Father, descriptions of mid-twentieth century life in Shanghai and Southern California are vivid and colorful. One of the many “discussable” themes Bo Caldwell’s novel reveals is that of cultural identity: Joseph’s truest love can be seen to be his passion for Shanghai, and he lives a very different life in California than he does in China.
This idea of living between two cultures or finding “home” in a place far from one’s origins, is a strong theme in many novels and memoirs. A few titles to consider:

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
(A nominee on the 2005 One City, One Story shortlist and a new movie) Tells the story of the Ganguli family, who leave Calcutta for Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Digging to America by Anne Tyler
Rich with characters and cultural clashes of all kinds.
The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
A Girl From Zanzibar by Roger King

Memoirs & Nonfiction
The Eighth Promise: An American Son’s Tribute to his Toisanese Mother by William Poy Lee
My Name is Iran: A Memoir by Davar Ardalan
A Thousand Miles of Dreams: The Journeys of Two Chinese Sisters by Sasha Su-Ling Welland
The Skin Between Us by Kym Ragusa
Suburban Sahibs: Three Immigrant Families and Passage from India to America by S. Mitra Kalita

“Treasures from Shanghai”

March 27th, 2007 by admin

Bo Caldwell’s book begins in Shanghai during the 1930’s.
If you would like to see some of the art and artifacts of ancient Chinese culture, you may want to take a day trip to Orange County. The Bowers Museum in Santa Ana presents “Treasures from Shanghai: 5000 Years of Chinese Art and Culture,” featuring 77 sets of objects from the Neolithic period (circa 3000 B.C.) to the Qing dynasty (1644-1911 A.D.). This incredible collection, on loan for the first time from the acclaimed Shanghai Museum, portrays the evolution of Chinese technology, art and culture utilizing rare examples of bronze vessels, oracle bones, polychrome potteries, sculptures, porcelains, paintings, jade/bamboo carvings and lacquer works. It is only the second collection ever brought to the United States from the Shanghai Museum and the first in more than 20 years.

For more information regarding the exhibit visit their website:

The Museum is open10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sunday. For all other information call 714-567-3600.

Beauty and Style

March 23rd, 2007 by admin

One of the common threads through “The Distant Land of my father”, was the beauty and style of both Eve and Joseph Schoen. They spent many hours of the “good” times in very fashionable nightspots and clubs. Meanwhile, Eve kept up her sense of style even when she left Shanghai the second time. For a pictorial review of what she might have worn during the span of The “Distant Land of my Father”, click on the following links.


The Distant Character of Joseph Schoene

March 22nd, 2007 by admin

Lamanda Park Branch’s discussion of The Distant Land of My Father focused on Anna’s father, almost to the exclusion of every other facet of the novel. Several of the participants could not understand what motivated him in general and, in particular, what motivated him to return to China near the end of the Second World War. In fact, it was surprising to me, at least, how distasteful these readers found Joseph Schoene.

To our participants, Joseph was a man driven by greed, by a lust for adventure and excitement. His hunger to play the “game,” led him to risk everything—his family, his fortune, his very life. They cited specifically the scene during the Japanese occupation where he takes Anna with him to the warehouse in Hongkew and confronts four Japanese gendarmes. Not only was traveling to this section of Shanghai dangerous in and of itself—and initially kept from Eve—but Joseph was carrying currency in a money belt strapped to his chest. As he himself notes, “’We tricked them, all right. They don’t own me. Nobody owns Joseph Schoene.’ He stood and flung open the car door, whistling again, as though we had reason to be jubilant.” (p. 92) Winning, the need to prove his cleverness, was suggested as motivating force behind his actions.

Yet Shanghai seems more important to Joseph than his wife or his child; in fact, it is the one ‘relationship’ that he does not betray. It could even be argued that the city, by changing in ways he can’t accept or even acknowledge, betrays him. He must undergo unspeakable suffering before he is forced to leave what truly is his home.

Joseph’s transformation was discussed at length as well. It clearly begins while he was imprisoned by the Communists, and continues via his embracing of Christian spirituality, his wife’s death, and the birth of his grandchildren. As materialistic as he was during his life as a Shanghai expatriate millionaire, he was frugal and virtually monastic once he returned to Los Angeles for good. In a sense, he is serving a penance for his neglect of his family. Joseph, it was agreed, was a survivor, yet his character, his essence, remains as enigmatic at the end of the novel as it was at the beginning.

Recipe of Chiaotzu (Dumplings)

March 21st, 2007 by admin

My dad was born in Shantung province and chiaotzu is rice to him. We always have them handy for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The chiaotzu Anna had in The Distant Land of My Father is pretty similar to the ones my parents make except we boil the dumplings instead of steam them. Here is the recipe:

Make approx. 60-70 dumplings

1 pound ground pork
3 Tbsp minced ginger
3 - 4 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice wine
2 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

1 small chopped cabbage
2/3 cup chopped green onions
1 egg (optional)
½ cup chicken stocks (optional)

Skin (wrappers):
2-3 packages of round potsticker wrappers (available in Asian markets)

In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients stated in A and then add in the rest in group B. Put a scoop of filling in the center of the skin. Fold the skin in half and pinch them together. (Caldwell describes the method very well in her book, page 43-44.)

To cook, put about 15 dumplings in a median size pot with boiling water. Bring it to boil and add a cup of cold water. Repeat it another 2 times and the dumplings are ready to serve.

** The fun and the hard part about cooking Chinese is that there is usually no exact recipe to follow. So, the above recipe is just to give you some ideas. The quantity of the ingredients is flexible. You can use chicken instead of pork, add your favorite chopped veggies and some shrimp.

Distant Visions of Shanghai

March 20th, 2007 by admin

One of the best parts about reading any good book is visualizing the locations and culture of the story as you go along. With this year’s choice, “The Distant Land of My Father,” readers are taken to the city of Shanghai in the summer of 1937.

In this case, both time and place become critical parts of the narrative. If after reading the book, you are curious about the look and feel of Shanghai before and during World War II, here are a few movies to investigate.

Pre-war Shanghai is seen by many as a rough and tumble free-for-all. The movie Shanghai Triad in particular, shows a dark 1930’s Shanghai where “violence was not the problem, it was the solution.”

Empire of the Sun relates a similar slice of life as our One City, One Story novel by showing occupied Shanghai and the dramatic personal cost to those living in the city during the turbulence of World War II.

For those interested in the history behind the story, the documentary, Shanghai Ghetto offers a compelling look at the thousands of Jews who fled Nazi persecution for one of the only places they could go without visas, the international port of Shanghai. This feature-length film depicts the story of these refugees with interviews of survivors and historians, rare letters, stock footage, still photos and footage shot in modern Shanghai where most of the Jewish Ghetto remains unchanged.

Shanghai: Collision Point of Cultures

March 19th, 2007 by admin

If the world of Distant Land of My Father seems puzzling or intriguing to you, Harriet Sergeant’s book Shanghai: Collision Point of Cultures 1918/1939 might be just what you’d like to read next. She blends historical records and personal interviews in a vivid description of the incredibly varied city that Shanghai was. Many different foreign nationalities – British, French, Americans, Japanese, White Russians, Jews, as well as the richest and poorest of the Chinese - coexisted in Shanghai. As you read about the attitudes of some of the British and American colonials, you can understand better the some of the otherwise inexplicable choices that Joseph Schoene made in the novel. Reading about the complex and confusing political background of China during this period helps you comprehend the larger picture in which the Schoene family’s adventures take place.


March 16th, 2007 by admin

Shanghai, pre-World War II, was a major trading and commercial hub attracting English, American, French and Japanese businessmen who populated the city with their shared interest in making money. This atmosphere of a money culture pervades Bo Caldwell, novel and is a strong motivating force that explains the father’s character. It was a city where money could be made; thus, for the father the money aspect of the city becomes too attractive to leave and a lure to stay. His greed becomes a force usurping family ties. Shanghai, during this time, was aptly described as “The Capital of Tycoons” and this economic aspect of the city becomes an underlying theme interwoven into the plot.

Chinese Lion Dance

March 15th, 2007 by admin

A dancing Chinese lion accompanied by a drum-and-gong team will open the program with author Bo Caldwell this Friday evening at 7:30 p.m. in the Forum Room at All Saints Church. Performed by members of the local Northern Shaolim Kung Fu Association, the lion dance is a colorful traditional dance that originated in China more than a thousand years ago. Wearing a colorful lion costume, the dancers (either a single or pair) mimic the motions of a lion in movement with music played by a drum, gong, and cymbal. The lion dance is performed at the beginning of the Chinese New Year, and at other special occasions, to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck.

Find out more about Chinese Lion Dance by visiting the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project website at http://www.chcp.org/lion.html or by browsing among the library’s collection of books about the Chinese New Year.

Lion Dance

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