RH: To me, one of the fascinating aspects of this story is that
you've always considered yourself Chinese, even though the outside
world wouldn't say so, because you look white.
LS: People at radio stations and TV studios on the tour are
often surprised by what my looks, even when they've seen the
picture on the book. Often all we see are people's faces without
understanding what's behind those faces. Even in my own family,
there were times when I would be interviewing someone and they'd
say, "Remember so-and-so? He was Caucasian, just like you." And I'd
think, "Why are you thinking of me that way? You've known me my
whole life; I'm not like that." Now that the book's done, I think that
they accept me as being Chinese like them.
RH: In the foreword, you discuss dealing with your family's
history in terms of the broader Chinese-American experience while
trying not to 'take sides' in the literary debates on the subject.
LS: In Chinese-American literature, and in American literature
in general, there's a certain amount of political correctness. What's
right, what's wrong, what we can and can't talk about, whether it's
good or bad to be commercial. And I just wasn't interested in those
things. There's a section in my book that I read on the tour about my
Uncle Gilbert and Aunt Sissee not being able to get married because
Gilbert's family didn't like the fact that she was half-Caucasian. Let's
face it, they were racist! And that's not something that gets talked
about often enough. It's "okay" to say that whites were racist, but not
that Chinese or other groups were racist, too. I felt that the only way
that this book would work was if I was honest and fair in both the
political and personal matters, and being fair meant not only going
after the asshole, but owning up to the bad things done by good
RH: When you were interviewing your family, did they ever seem
to feel, "Why would you ever want to tell the world these things
about our family?"
LS: Oh, they would ask that all the time, or they'd tell me, "We
don't talk about that." They were very concerned with how it was
going to be presented, and it wasn't until my Aunt Sissee began
talking to me before her death that I really got the go-ahead from
my family. In many ways, I think her death was what finally
convinced much of the rest of the family to talk. She had given it her
blessing by doing the interviews, and because she had died so early
in my research, it was almost as if their speaking to me were a
funeral gift, a way of fulfilling her wishes. If she were still alive, I'm
still not sure how many of those people would have decided to let me
RH: You knew the surface of these stories growing up. But were
you constantly surprised by the new details that emerged as you dug
into the story? How did you get your family to tell you more,
especially given their reluctance?
LS: In any family, I think there's an assumption that you
know the whole story. So that's why somebody could say in an
offhand way, "Oh, the kidnapping..." They assumed that even though
I wasn't even born then, that I would know that story. So some of
this stuff wasn't really a secret before I started interviewing; people
didn't talk about it because they thought everybody knew.
The two people who were kidnapped had never talked about it
before, not even with their own children, and didn't talk about with
me at all, no matter how I tried. But then I went to China, went to
the village where it happened, saw the wall that the kidnappers had
broken into, the room the children had been in. And when I came
back, one of them started to discuss it with me. I don't know if my
trip to China had convinced him that I was serious about the project,
or if it was just that he could talk to me about it because I had been
there and seen the place where it happened. Either way, he was very
candid from that point on.
RH: You did a lot of research in China for The Flower Net as
LS: I was there just last summer by myself. I went into one of
the last panda reserves, out in the middle of nowhere, and to a
Buddhist pilgrimage site at a mountain. If you've ever seen those
misty Chinese landscapes, that's really what that region looks like;
they aren't being fantastic in their style at all. I won't tell you what I
was really looking at, though, because I don't want to give that part
of the book away yet.
RH: What can you tell us about it?
LS: I can tell you how it got started. My husband Dick is a
lawyer who represents many foreign governments, including China.
We had been travelling there periodically for his cases. One time, we
were there for a case he was working on for the Bank of China, which
is like the U.S. Treasury but is also their bank. A man had stolen fifty
million dollars from the Bank of China, and they hired Dick to find
him and the money.
He was working not only with the Bank of China, but with people in
the Ministry of Public Security, the people responsible for
Tiananmen, and occasionally I'd have the weird experience of being
out at dinner or in karaoke bars with these people. Two things struck
me. One was the usual notion of the banality of evil, and the other
was that I had access to material that almost nobody else had,
watching these people and hearing about their internal operations.
And I realized there was a great book in those two ideas. It'll be
coming out in the fall of 1997 from HarperCollins; we've sold the
foreign rights in thirteen countries and Paramount has bought the