Leaving Mother Lake: A Girlhood at the Edge of the World Hardcover – 1 Feb 2003
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"I find this book beautiful, the Moso people inspiring, and Yang Erche Namu's own spirit refreshing, to say the least." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Namu is a professional singer.
Christine Mathieu did her doctoral study on Moso culture and history. She lives in San Francisco and is a professor of anthropology at St. Mary's College of California. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
by Melisa Gao, Sr. Correspondent
Leaving Mother Lake is the autobiographical account of a girl coming of age as a Moso, an ethnic minority that lives in the Himalayas in southwestern China. In the Moso culture, women hold an honored place, and families are matrilineal. Yet young Yang Erche Namu feels trapped by society's expectations of her. As she grows into a strong-willed young woman, she decides to leave the Moso to pursue her dream of becoming a singer. Forsaking her ties to her family and her people, Namu relies on her own determination and resourcefulness to brave the unforgiving world. But Namu is caught between two ways of life, and this struggle eventually becomes the focus of the story.
Namu, now a famous singer, wrote this memoir with the help of Christine Mathieu, an expert on the Moso people and their history. The authors' passion for this story and for the Moso people resonates with every sentence. Moso traditions and beliefs are a departure from almost any we encounter in today's world, and the book is worth reading for that reason alone. Leaving Mother Lake is a lovingly crafted tribute to this enchanting but little-known culture, with all its legend and lore.
Namu and Mathieu use wonderful details to paint a picture of the Moso people and their home. "Red granite and evergreen forests towered over the meadow, and peaks like saw teeth pierced the blue sky, slicing through feathery clouds - ridge after ridge, and as far as I could see," they write. "The air was so pure, so still, so empty of familiar smells and sounds that I might have become frightened if I had not been overwhelmed by so much wild beauty" (80). This calm beauty of the Moso villages later contrasts the rowdiness of the city streets Namu will visit.
Despite its unique setting, the themes of Leaving Mother Lake reach effortlessly across cultural differences. We laugh and cry with our heroine, and we identify with her feelings of confinement and longing. Leaving Mother Lake is primarily a book about love, loyalty, duty, and desire. That Namu and Mathieu can convey these emotions across the vast cultural differences is a testament to their storytelling abilities; their use of exquisite imagery and rich description make the story all the more enjoyable.
Copyright 2003, Blue Jean Online
In Leaving Mother Lake, the reader is instantly drawn in as Namu begins her story by pleading with her mother to share the details of her birth. With this seemingly simple request made at her mother's knee, Namu unfolds the world in which she grew up and all of the important players. She tells her own coming of age story but she also shares the stories of her village and her people.
It's easy to see why she wanted to leave such a remote and impoverished place. What makes Namu's story special is how much she feels indebted to her culture and her people for producing her.
Everyone has great stories about their childhood but some of Namu's are particularly expected. For instance, this is probably the first time readers will come to know a little girl who was so cold while herding yaks in the mountains that she stuck her legs in the yaks' stream of urine during Winter mornings to feel warm, even if only for a few moments.
A truly spectacular memoir.
However, this discussed public personality has a very interesting background, that has drawn the interest of an appreciated anthropologist Christine Mathieu (1954) who undertook the task of reconstructing Namu's childhood. This biography written in first person is not actually written by Namu but by her "interpreter" Mathieu. Namu was born in the Moso ethnicity, one of the 56 Chinese recognized minority groups. The less than 50,000 Moso live according to a matrilinear social organization. Women detain property and through the so called "walking marriage" procreate children that more often than not do not know their fathers. A woman's offspring is usually by different men. This kind of social organization is very rare, but still survives in some parts of the world and determines a peaceful and non violent environment. Until the 1980's this secluded society had had few contacts with the outside world and maintained its peculiar characteristics and represented an anthropologist dream..
The spirited and intelligent Namu was keen to escape her limited life in a Moso village, and this is the story of "Leaving Mother Lake". The story of Namu's youth ranges from the description of her family and friends, sibling rivaltry, an isolated experience among the mountains with her uncle and basically a conflictive relationship with her mother Christine Mathieu has reconstructed and rewritten Namu's childhood from long conversations and memories of the protagonist, and after completion of the biography she submitted it to Namu, who recognized herself in the tale. Can this lead us to call this is an authorized biography, a biography by proxy, a false diary, an interpreted memoir? The definition is difficult, and the genesis of this book, which has been a world wide best-seller, is I think one of its drawbacks. The personality of the young Namu has been westernized, and probably for this reason it gains so much empathy. In some points Namu's story reminded me of "Caddie Woodlawn" " or "The Little House on the Prairie".
Independently however from the description of the protagonist's character and her personal facts, the book is an anthropologic text full of stories, episodes, historical and religious analysis and correlations with history and sociology of the evolution of modern China. I was personally more interested in this aspect and found that Mathieu knows how to tell a story, and has aptly chosen Namu as her vehicle for a social analysis of the Moso ethnicity. The memoir is followed by a chapter on the discussions on the evolution of the Moso ethnicity and its possible historical explanations and another with a two voice interview with Namu and Mathieu.
This book is very readable, it breezes along conveying by broad lines the sense of this social group, it also introduces us to the strong personality of Namu. But I suggest to look her up on from other sources, one of which is Michel Palin's "Himalaya" and reflect on who she really is and what she represents in modern China.
Namu was born into a community of matriarchs, a village in which women own the houses and rule the households, taking a series of lovers, bearing children, but never leaving their mother's house, and certainly not leaving the village. Namu's mother breaks with the cultural by moving to a nearby village, and, like mother, like daughter, Namu breaks out even further, eventually touring far from home with a musical troupe. Returning home to her powerful mother, she finds the truth in the adage: you can't go home again.
Leaving Mother Lake is an anthropological study presented as memoir, a satisfying way to learn much about this hidden and previously unknown culture.