Synopses & Reviews
An original, courageous novel, FireWife
draws on the powerful Chinese myth of fire and water to explore how women's sexuality and fate are intertwined.
Nin, a photographer, embarks on a five-month journey to photograph women around the world. Her travel turns into a search for the truth about women: the women of fire and the women of water. Each of her subjects' lives echoes a stage in Nin's discovery of her true “fire self.” FireWife illuminates the gap between merely knowing and actually living one's true self. Poetic and intensely moving, FireWife is an exploration of contemporary Asian women unknowingly connected over time.
About the Author
TINLING CHOONG was born and raised in Malaysia. She received a B.A. from Wellesley College, and is working toward her Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Literatures at Yale University. FIREWIFE is her publishing debut. She is at work on a novel.
Reading Group Guide
is a fictional collage: a single story made of vignettes in the lives of eight women. Discuss the structure of this work of fiction and why you think the writer uses it to relate the tale.
2. FireWife opens with “This is the story of eight women, four fire and four water, bonded since the genesis.” Which of the women are “fire” and which are “water”? What are the characteristics and tendencies that distinguish them? Are their any qualities that they share? Which woman's story moves you the most deeply?
3. Nin is trying to find redemption from her guilt since her sister drowned in a tapioca pool when they were children playing together. She tells us that she will embark on a journey to photograph “the suffering, the unsure, the unfree.” How is Nin's photography project related to the redemption she seeks? Do you think there is conflict between her desire to liberate these nameless young women and girls and her desire to free herself sexually?
4. In Lakshmi's tale, we learn that Lakshmi's passion carried her away to an ill-wrought marriage and she died at the hands of her husband's family. When we meet Lakshmi, she is floating between death and life where she sees her mother who tells her “You now have the chance to be born free, to fight for truth, make fire, make love. And remember to always see wide and deep.” What does her mother mean? By accepting her mother's advice, what role does Lakshmi play in the lives of the other women we come to know?
5. The girl in Taipei (Zimi) leases her forehead as ad space and says “be true, be kind, but be true before be kind.” Do you agree with her? Do you think there are times when being truthful is at odds with being kind?
6. FireWife is a story of escape and desire but it is also about struggle and emancipation. As such, flying is a recurrent metaphor. How does the author use it: does it mean flight/escape or does it symbolize pure exhilaration? Which women achieve freedom? Is her freedom real or imagined?
7. In Bangkok, Ut, a fourteen year old prostitute, sits waiting for her next customer and talks to a fly who, like her, is trapped in a display window; in Tokyo, an unnamed sushi hostess is forced to disrobe so that her body may be used as a sushi table serving groups of male businessmen. While Ut implores the fly to go pay a visit to Buddha, whose fat earlobes “can fan bad luck off your path,” the hostess says “Buddha is too busy with the starving and the shoeless” to hear her prayers. Discuss how each of their situations and personal histories have shaped their faith and sense of hope/hopelessness?
8. Nin says “My memory is my land.” What does she mean? In the context of Chinese Diaspora, imagine a woman like Nin, Chinese born and raised in the once British colony of Malaysia, now an American citizen and resident. How does the diasporic background of a woman like Nin shape her world views? In what ways is your approach to the world shaped by your background?