Title: The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds
Author: Selina Siak Chin Yoke
Date of Publication: November 1st, 2016
Facing challenges in an increasingly colonial world, Chye Hoon, a rebellious young girl, must learn to embrace her mixed Malayan-Chinese identity as a Nyonya—and her destiny as a cook, rather than following her first dream of attending school like her brother.
Amidst the smells of chillies and garlic frying, Chye Hoon begins to appreciate the richness of her traditions, eventually marrying Wong Peng Choon, a Chinese man. Together, they have ten children. At last, she can pass on the stories she has heard—magical tales of men from the sea—and her warrior’s courage, along with her wonderful kueh (cakes).
But the cultural shift towards the West has begun. Chye Hoon finds herself afraid of losing the heritage she so prizes as her children move more and more into the modernising Western world.
“The Woman who Breathed Two Worlds” by Selina Siak Chine Yoke is a historical story that will remind most females of their own lives, regardless of taking place in Malaysia.
You follow the view point of Chye Hoon, a mixed heritage (Chinese/ Malayan) young girl who wants to attend school like her brother when the story opens.
She never was able to accomplish that, but had to find ways around it in order to shape her own world in a powerful way.
You see her entire life-from a child that sells dead butterflies and trinkets, to a mother of many children running a household.
The detail rich descriptions of spicy cooking, and the sights and sounds of a changing and increasingly British Malaysia are perfect. They stick with you in a natural way. So, too, do the little moments of motherhood
that might break your heart. I found myself in tears twice finishing this novel.
I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys the works of authors like Amy Tan, but I’d particularly recommend it women who run their own businesses or those considering it. “The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds” is a ballad of perseverance.
It also shows the balancing act of participating in a changing world with helping your family understand where they came from, and the consequences of being dogmatic.
My favorite quote from the beginning of the book, and the one that resonates with me is “In the rooms beyond chattering voices reverberated, while around me, stacked neatly on the floor and on wooden cabinets,were the utensils that would one day be my weapons.”