CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 10. . . . January, 2003
And then came the long plane ride to Canada, during which I slept a good deal. My mother woke me when the meal came, and I saw a strange vegetable that we had never eaten in China. It looked like green cauliflower to us, and only later did I learn that it was called broccoli. On the side was a little package of soy sauce that was so small and pretty I wanted to save it. This was the beginning of so many encounters with newness for me. For the moment we could marvel at these things without yet having to confront the more difficult realities of the new life that lay ahead of us.
Chan Hon Goh's autobiography provides a detailed account of the dancer's early childhood in China, her family's emigration to Canada, and her rise to fame as the prima ballerina at the National Ballet of Canada. Born in the years immediately after the Cultural Revolution to parents who were talented ballet stars and teachers in China, Goh describes the changes and challenges in her life as a new young immigrant.
There are black and white photos throughout, and many of these effectively illustrate the life and art of Goh and her parents. One example is a photo of her parents starring in a classical ballet contrasted with a photo of them in a more pragmatic era when they were in a patriotic ballet during the Cultural Revolution. There is also a 12-page photo gallery in the middle of the book. The black and white photos are excellent, produced on quality paper, and many are of the dancer in performance in classical ballets. As such, they have a timeless quality that will ensure that the book will not appear dated for quite some time.
Many readers could relate to Goh's story, whether as dancers, immigrants, or those struggling to find their place in society. The text is detailed, but restrained, perhaps reflective of the author's shy character and her training in the techniques of the dance, requiring exacting precision and control. As such, the story is told in a technically proficient manner, yet lacks drama. There is no real passion in the story -- no sights, sounds, tastes, or smells -- just an apparent desire to be accurate, mildly upbeat, and non-offensive. There is no hint of gossip about the National Ballet in this story, and the struggles of life seem to be non-issues when compared with the details found in many contemporary Canadian young adult works.
These weaknesses, however, will not deter girls dreaming of the dance to pick up this book and appreciate those details and Goh's steady rise to stardom. The simplicity of the text and the storyline would also make it a good choice for youth or adult ESL readers. Sentences are direct with enough details to explain concepts that may be new to the reader. Likewise, the text remains uncluttered by idiomatic expressions that might frustrate an ESL student or adult learning to read.
Janice Linton is the Aboriginal Health Librarian at the University of Manitoba.
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