In Sky Lee’s Novel, Disappearing Moon Café, the character Kae breaks the circle of female self-destruction that has restricted and isolated the women of the Wong family through three generations. By discovering the secrets of her family’s history, and more specifically the truth about her dead aunt Suzanne, Kae learns to erase the boundaries the have hindered her own aspirations and rejects the Chinese patriarchal values that confined and controlled the women of her past. The rediscovery of her individual identity allows Kae to embrace her own sexuality and artistic ambitions and, in turn, leads her to pursue a lesbian relationship with Hermia. Kae finds companionship, love and trust from Hermia, and leaves behind the rigid constraints of a patriarchally defined society for a female community.
Throughout the novel, a close parallel is drawn between Kae’s quest to reveal the secrets of her past and her journey towards self-realization. By slowly piecing together the tragic circumstances surrounding the suicide of her aunt Suzanne, Kae begins to realize her own path. This new direction eventually evolves beyond the practice of traditionally defined Chinese patriarchal ideals that controlled her aunt Suzie. Kae becomes obsessed with the truth about Suzie, which she closely connects to the exploration of her individual identity. Through her own interpretations, Kae gives Suzie a means of expression and a character that is comparable to and symbolic of her own.
With the birth of her first-born son Bobby, Kae’s mother Beatriz finally reveals the truth about her families past, “the same past that has shaped so much of my own life, with evil tentacles that could have wormed into the innocent, tender parts of my baby.” Kae resolves not to let the past influence her and her baby the way it bounded the women of in the times before her: “…it will not be so unless I make it so. By identifying the stifling barriers that resulted in Suzanne’s eventual suicide, Kae realizes that she must not doom herself to the same fate of her ancestors by allowing the masculine to manipulate her existence. Kae expresses this in a letter to Hermia: “I am afraid that I am just as vulnerable as Suzie to having my first real creative expression thwarted. Aborted.”
Kae’s decision to redirect her life and become a “poor but pure writer” symbolizes the final stages of her transformation. Finally Kae is whole enough to be able to pursue the loving and nurturing lesbian relationship she originally deprived herself of with Hermia. Hermia always has possessed the ability to recognize the desires and life Kae starved herself of when they were in college: “Kae I can see it in your eye’s/that drive to love and create. Why do you want to deny? Women’s strength is in the bonds they form with each other…” When Kae notifies Hermia of her plans to come and see her in Hong Kong, Hermia responds by telegram, inviting Kae to pursue their relationship: “am ecstatic you take advice after sixteen years/we could live happily ever after.”
Kae’s ability to find love and support from another woman contrasts the roles women have embodied and played out between each other in her ancestral past. Instead of reinforcing the Patriarchal social structure that dominated three generations of Wong women, Kae is able to liberate herself from the burdens of her ancestors’ past and instead learns to “live a great novel/not just write one.”
Sky Lee, Disappearing Moon Café, Vancouver, Douglas and McIntyre, 1991
Wai-Ling Ho-Ching, Who killed Suzie Wong: An inquiry into the Interactions between writer and subject in the Disappearing Moon Café: www.cs berkely.edu/
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Topic: Sky Lee’s novel “Disappearing Moon Cafe”
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