Mar, M. Elaine 1966-
MAR, M. Elaine 1966-
Home—Cambridge, MA. Agent—c/o Author Mail, HarperCollins, 10 East 53rd St., 7th Floor, New York, NY 10022.
Author. Has worked as a youth caseworker and for a family counseling program in Dorchester, MA.
Paper Daughter: A Memoir (biographical novel), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.
Contributor to periodicals.
Born Man Yee to a poor family living in Hong Kong, M. Elaine Mar provides an emotional account in her first book of what it was like trying to fit into American society after her family moved to Denver, Colorado. Expected by her parents to adhere to the traditional role of obedient, passive daughter while feeling rejected by her American peers because she was ethnically different from them, as well as poor, Mar struggled for years to establish a sense of self. Even when the chance to go to Harvard University helped her escape from the fate of being sent back to Hong Kong for an arranged marriage, the author continued to suffer from low self-esteem. Turning to writing as an avenue of release, she published a well-received article about rape and her sexual awakening in Harvard magazine. She intended to turn this early article into a book about students from working-class families attending Harvard, but the story instead evolved into the more personal account of her experiences growing up in Denver, Paper Daughter: A Memoir.
The title of Paper Daughter refers to the idea that Mar, now living on the East Coast, is a daughter mostly on paper, as she stays in contact with her parents via written correspondence only; it also refers to Mar's mother, who was separated from Mar's grandfather, who had moved to the United States years before the rest of the family. The Hong Kong life that the author's family abandoned to work in a Denver restaurant was not much of an improvement, and she recalls through the novel's narrator that desperate poverty in Denver still meant getting used to being hungry all the time. In addition, the narrator in the story struggles to assert her independence from her parents and become a part of American society.
Instead of telling her story in a first-person, flashback narrative, Mar chose to tell it as a third-person account from the point of view of the young Man Yee. As Mar explained to Aine Cryts in the Kennedy School Bulletin, she chose this point of view for a reason: "There isn't a lot of distance between the reader and the character because I wanted to bring the reader into my experiences. Most people who read literary-type books don't know about this kind of experience. My intention was to write a story for those who didn't grow up the way I did." By using the narrator Man Yee to distance herself from her personal identity, Mar hoped to make Yee's experiences more universal.
For some critics, this proved to be an unsuccessful strategy. A Publishers Weekly reviewer, for example, felt that Mar's attempt to capture the confusion of the child Man Yee, who does not understand the motives of those around her, results in "a curiously shallow look at her life." But other reviewers found Mar's narrative to be powerful. "Mar captures the feelings immigrant children … would have felt in elementary school," stated Yolk contributor Betty Chia. Chia added that "Mar plunges the reader into her experiences, creating a rich mosaic of reflection and framework of remembrance that are at once unflinching and universal." In a review by Lori Tsang in the Washington Post, the critic praised how "Mar's portrayals of her adolescent efforts to deal with her emotional and bodily appetites, to negotiate issues involving sex, food and money, and to bridge the widening gap between herself and her parents move effortlessly between straightforward narrative and brief poetic or philosophical passages." And, in an Asian Week San Francisco article, Anna Mantzaris declared that "Paper Daughter is a courageous memoir that presents a complete picture of a woman remembering her multi-faceted childhood and adolescent years."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Mar, M. Elaine, Paper Daughter: A Memoir, Harper-Collins (New York, NY), 1999.
Asian Week San Francisco, September 1, 1999, Anna Mantzaris, "Revisiting Adolescence: M. Elaine Mar Candidly Recounts Living in Poverty," p. 23.
Booklist, August, 1999, Michelle Kaske, review of Paper Daughter: A Memoir, p. 2018.
Harvard, November-December, 1995, M. Elaine Mar, "Blue Collar, Crimson Blazer," p. 47.
Publishers Weekly, August 30, 1999, review of Paper Daughter, p. 65.
Washington Post, October 31, 1999, Lori Tsang, review of Paper Daughter, p. X06.
Yolk, September 30, 1999, Betty Chia, review of Paper Daughter.
Kennedy School Bulletin Online,http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/ksgpress/bulletin/ (autumn, 2001), Aine Cryts, "A Paper Daughter Speaks."*