The Flower Drum Song

The Flower Drum Song - C.Y. Lee, David Henry Hwang Having been a long-time fan of the Rogers & Hammerstein musical based on this novel, I was surprised to learn of the book's existence. For some reason, when great Asian authors and literature are discussed, C.Y. Lee's "Flower Drum Song" is not part of the equation.This is a pity, really. Lee takes an honest look at Chinese-American cultural mores in San Francisco's Chinatown (where he lived at one point), including the problems caused by immigration quotas and anti-miscegenation laws. He writes frankly, for example, about Wang Ta (the eldest son in the story) consorting with prostitutes, thus breaking a barrier I have never been able to understand -- the idea that Asian men are somehow asexual.At the time Lee's novel takes place, immigration quotas had resulted in there being six Chinese men for every woman. Anti-miscegenation laws prevented those men from marrying outside of their ethnicity. Thus, when Lee writes about Linda Tung (this character became Linda Low in the musical) and her "brothers" competing for her attention and her playing them against each other to obtain gifts, he is talking about a cultural reality. Women could be, and were, quite particular.The book also describes the immigrant experience in detail. Anthropologists know that immigrants cling to their old culture while the first generation born into the new culture assimilates entirely and is embarrassed at their elders. It is not until yet another generation is born that the cultures meld. The clashes between Old Master Wang Chi-yang and Young Masters Wang Ta and Wang San are frequent, and serve as splendid demonstrations of the situation.I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it highly.