See, Lisa 1955- (Monica Highland, a joint pseudonym, Lisa See Kendall)
See, Lisa 1955- (Monica Highland, a joint pseudonym, Lisa See Kendall)
Born February 18, 1955, in Paris, France; daughter of Richard Edward (an anthropologist) and Carolyn (a novelist) See; married Richard Becker Kendall (an attorney), July 18, 1981; children: Alexander See Kendall, Christopher Copeland Kendall. Education: Received certificate from Institute for Balkan Studies in Greece, 1978; Loyola Marymount University, B.A., 1979. Hobbies and other interests: Travel (including Mexico and Greece), tennis, Mexican folkloric dance.
Writer. Triad Graphic Workshop, Los Angeles, CA, printer and in sales and public relations, 1973-75; Sun Institute, Los Angeles, event coordinator, 1977-78; freelance writer, 1979—; event coordinator for Loyola Marymount Writers Conference, 1980—. Vice president of Kendall Restaurant Corp.; Los Angeles City Commissioner on the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Monument Authority.
American Society of Journalists and Authors, Writers Guild of America, West, PEN (judge).
Proclamation from City of Los Angeles and Long Beach Literary Hall of Fame Award, both 1983, both for Lotus Land; National Woman of the Year, the Organization of Chinese American Women, 2001; History Makers Award, Chinese American Museum, 2003.
(Author of text) A Day in the Life of Hawaii, Workman Publishing (New York, NY), 1984.
On Gold Mountain: The One-hundred-year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family (autobiography), St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (novel), Random House (New York, NY), 2005.
Peony in Love (novel), Random House (New York, NY), 2007.
"HULAN AND STARK" MYSTERY SERIES
Flower Net, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.
The Interior, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.
Dragon Bones, Random House (New York, NY), 2003.
WITH MOTHER, CAROLYN SEE, AND JOHN ESPEY; UNDER JOINT PSEUDONYM MONICA HIGHLAND
Lotus Land (novel), Coward-McCann (New York, NY), 1983.
110 Shanghai Road, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1986.
Greetings from Southern California (nonfiction), Graphic Arts Center Publishing (Portland, OR), 1988.
Contributor to book Half + Half. Contributor of articles to TV Guide, USA Today, Los Angeles Times Magazine, New West, Dynamic Years, City Kids, Emmy, Forum, Today, Sporting Times, Women's Sports, LA Weekly, and Twin Circle. Western correspondent for Publishers Weekly, 1980—.
Lotus Land and 110 Shanghai Road have been optioned for television miniseries.
Lisa See, who has published with her mother, Carolyn See, and John Espey under the joint pseudonym Monica Highland, once told CA: "I've been around journalism and letters all my life. My mother, Carolyn See, is a journalist, novelist, and critic. She has taught me everything I know about what might be called the popular, contemporary West Coast literary scene. I've known my other collaborator, John Espey, for over twenty-five years. He has taught me about the scholarly life. It is a pleasure to work with them as ‘Monica Highland.’ I know I speak for all of us when I say that it gives us a feeling of strength in numbers—something all writers need in the West."
See, one-eighth Chinese, presents more than her own life story in her autobiography On Gold Mountain: The One-hundred-year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family. The narrative is "a comprehensive and exhaustively researched account of a Chinese-American family as it deals with the rise and fall of several Los Angeles ‘Chinatowns,’ with the exigencies of discrimination, fire, flood, earthquake, the Great Depression and two world wars," summarized Zilpha Keatley Snyder in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. "Intricate genealogy, bravura entrepreneurship, bitter adulteries and perdurable rivalries … business in rambunctious frontier California; ferreting out the heirlooms of abruptly bankrupt Chinese families and buying them up; dealing in art, antiques and furniture; marrying, divorcing and carrying on—the See family's adventures would be incredible if On Gold Mountain were fiction," proclaimed Elizabeth Tallent in the New York Times Book Review.
The "diversity" in "deal[ing] with a great number of individuals and a time span of over one hundred years … [and] unique crosscurrents of cultural and ethnic diversity … sets [See's] saga apart from other excellent family histories of Asian immigrants…. Throughout the lengthy and complicated account the reader is carried along effortlessly by the author's skillful and absolutely convincing invocation of the fears, joys, loves, hatreds, strengths and weaknesses of her remarkable progenitors," praised Snyder, who superficially faulted the book for not editing some "duplications of information" and for a lack of "family photographs." Tallent cautioned, however, that in the "handling of her characters' emotional lives on occasion [See] seems downright fatigued." Regardless, See, a "clear-eyed biographer," did "a gallant and fair-minded job of fashioning anecdote, fable and fact into an engaging account," recognized Tallent. On Gold Mountain is a "lovingly rendered dynastic saga," applauded Pam Lambert in People, concluding: "Deeply felt, [See's] story of culture and assimilation would likely make her ancestors proud."
"The complexity of [See's] own background" is credited by Paula Friedman in the Los Angeles Times Book Review for "the graceful rendering of two different and complex cultures, within [the] highly intricate plot" of Flower Net, a "novel of political conspiracy and family betrayal." See's debut mystery presents "a workmanlike job with … plot and paints a vivid portrait of a vast Communist nation in the painful throes of a sea change," stated a People reviewer. Critics applauded See's portrayal of Beijing and characterization of Liu Hulan, a female detective with the Ministry of Public Security in Beijing. Hulan is paired with her love interest of a decade earlier, David Stark, an assistant U.S. attorney. The team bridges countries, and rekindles romance, when investigating an apparent serial killer whose latest two victims were recently discovered. The body of a powerful Chinese businessman's son was found in U.S. territory, and the body of a U.S. ambassador's son was found frozen in a Beijing lake. "True to [See]'s predilection for doubling throughout this novel, when Hulan and David do reach the end of their investigation, they find two interdependent solutions. One is so sensationally evil, its hard to swallow; the other is quietly appalling," declared Washington Post Book World contributor Maureen Corrigan.
"All and all," recognized New York Times Book Review contributor Gary Krist, "[Flower Net has] an inviting premise for a thriller … [and] capitalizes on its inherent novelty and exoticism … but when it comes to plotting, [See] unfortunately adopts the old policy of letting a hundred improbabilities bloom … [and there is] a nagging aura of inauthenticity hang[ing] over the novel's investigative mechanics." In the novel, "paradox and contradiction are enmeshed in increasingly ambiguous scenarios that are about as tough to sort out as any 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. Following the crisscrossing narrative that moves from China to Los Angeles and back again, the reader quickly begins to feel trapped in a hall of mirrors," contended Friedman.
Of the detective pair, Krist wrote: "Although Stark is constructed largely from crime-novel boiler plate … Hulan is a provocative mixture of vulnerability, bitterness and hardheaded practicality." Calling Hulan an "intriguing, if not fully fleshed out, character," Corrigan asserted: "David may have the muscle, but Hulan has the moxie." With Hulan, declared USA Today reviewer Deirdre Donahue, See has "compellingly" created a "woman far more tough-minded than the man." Praising the novel, Corrigan contended that "if … you have a strong stomach and an appreciation for atmospheric, tightly plotted suspense stories, Flower Net is a treat." This "nifty tale of suspense" presents "colorful observations of Chinese life … seemlessly combined with basic suspense elements," lauded Chicago Tribune contributor Chris Petrako, calling See "a writer comfortable with imaginative storytelling and the sweep of history."
The Interior is See's second mystery novel featuring American lawyer Stark and Chinese police detective Hulan, published in 1999. This time the lovers set off on a case involving an American-owned toy factory in rural China after Hulan's old friend Ling Suchee's daughter dies there. Hulan goes undercover in the factory and uncovers conditions where women are treated like slaves, and possibly even murdered. In See's third mystery novel, 2003's Dragon Bones, Hulan and Stark are back at it again. The duo is married now and drifting apart after the death of their young daughter, who contracted meningitis. Hoping to bring the couple back together, Hulan's superior at the Ministry of Public Security sends her and Stark to the Three Gorges to investigate the death of an archaeologist who may have stolen ancient artifacts from the dam site. As they begin to repair their relationship, more fatalities occur. Although Booklist reviewer Carrie Bissey criticized the novel for being "wordy" and having dialogue that is "a bit stilted," she also noted that the information about historical and modern-day China conveyed in the novel "makes it worthwhile." She further commended the book for having a plot that "is convoluted but fascinating." The author "succeeds in widening the reader's knowledge about the politics and culture of contemporary China while racing along with an absorbing story," observed a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Library Journal contributor Nanci Milone Hill mentioned that Dragon Bones "flows beautifully, engaging readers in the mystery while gently introducing them to China's rich cultural history."
Veering away from the mystery genre, See's 2005 novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, takes readers to nineteenth-century China to explore the long-standing friendship between two women, Lily and Snow Flower, who, despite their strikingly different backgrounds, were brought together by the tradition of arranged friendships known as laotong. Over the years, the two exchange messages in nu shu (a secret language known only to women), writing of their mutual devotion on a fan they pass between each other. The laotong bonds of the two persevere through several family tragedies, a typhoid-fever epidemic, and the Taiping Rebellion of 1851-64. But a misunderstood message in nu shu, the secret language that facilitated their bond, in the end, tears their friendship apart. For this book, See traveled to a remote area of China, supposedly only the second foreigner ever to visit there, to research nu shu, the secret writing invented, used, and kept a secret by women for over a thousand years. Her "meticulous research and exquisite language deliver a story that is haunting, powerful, and, at times, almost too painful to bear," remarked Beth E. Andersen in her review of the novel for Library Journal. Booklist reviewer Kristine Huntley remarked that in this book the author's "writing is intricate and graceful, and her attention to detail never wavers, making for a lush, involving reading experience." "Taut and vibrant, the story offers a delicately painted view of a sequestered world and provides a richly textured account of how women might understand their own lives," lauded a Kirkus Reviews, critic.
See's follow-up to Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, 2007's Peony in Love, explores the true-life phenomenon of lovesick Chinese maidens. Privileged but repressed, these girls fell under the spell of the romantic opera The Peony Pavilion and let themselves waste away in the name of love. The opera, debuting in 1598, tells the story of Liniang, a young woman who meets her true love in a dream and wakes up so lovesick that she dies of a broken heart. Her lover eventually brings her back to life. "These girls were living more or less totally confined lives," said See in an interview with BookPage Web site contributor Amy Scribner. "They never met their husbands. A lot of them never went out. They thought that in emulating Liniang, maybe they, too, would have some choice in their lives. Maybe true love would bring them back to life." Set in seventeenth-century China, the book's main character, Peony, meets her soulmate during a forbidden late-night walk on the outskirts of her family villa during a local production of The Peony Pavilion. Already promised in marriage, she mourns for her true love by embarking on the same dark path as the opera's heroine. In a cruel twist of fate, Peony discovers as she is dying that the man she met that night and fell in love with is also the man she was supposed to marry. "Peony's vibrant voice, perfectly pitched between the novel's historical and passionate depths, carries her story beautifully—in life and afterlife," observed a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
See once told CA: "It's a rare day when I don't ponder that the West Coast (especially Southern California, the second-largest book market) isn't adequately represented in the media or seriously considered by the power brokers in the East. There is power, talent, and money out here, and except for the movie business, little connection is made between the East Coast publishing business and the extraordinary cache of West Coast energy."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 15, 1999, Jenny McLarin, review of The Interior, p. 238; March 15, 2003, Carrie Bissey, review of Dragon Bones, p. 1281; July, 2005, Kristine Huntley, review of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, p. 1901; May 15, 2007, Elizabeth Dickie, review of Peony in Love, p. 21.
Books, August 13, 2006, Petra Nelson, review of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, p. 6; June 2, 2007, Kristin Kloberdanz, review of Peony in Love, p. 8; July 21, 2007, "Timeless Love: Lisa See's Historical Novel Transports Readers to Places Real and Otherworldly," p. 9.
Book World, June 26, 2005, "Scripted in the Shadows," p. 6; June 24, 2007, "Ghosts in the Garden," p. 6.
Chicago Tribune, October 12, 1997, Chris Petrako, review of Flower Net.
Detroit Free Press, July 6, 2005, review of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.
Drood Review of Mystery, July, 2000, review of The Interior, p. 21.
Entertainment Weekly, June 24, 2005, Jennifer Reese, review of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, p. 170.
Financial Times, November 3, 2007, Sarah Beldo, review of Peony in Love, p. 43.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, June 27, 2007, review of Peony in Love.
Houston Chronicle, July 8, 2007, "Lovesick in 17th-century China; in Lisa See's Romantic, Suspenseful Novel, a Cloistered Girl Falls under the Spell of a Scandalous Opera," p. 14.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2003, review of Dragon Bones, p. 425; April 15, 2005, review of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, p. 447; May 15, 2007, review of Peony in Love.
Kliatt, March, 2005, Janet Julian, review of Dragon Bones, p. 52.
Library Journal, July 16, 1986, Patricia Altner, review of 110 Shanghai Road, p. 108; August, 2000, Lora Bruggeman, review of The Interior, p. 192; May 15, 2003, Nanci Milone Hill, review of Dragon Bones, p. 127; June 1, 2005, Beth E. Andersen, review of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, p. 122; May 15, 2007, Beth E. Andersen, review of Peony in Love, p. 84.
Los Angeles Magazine, May, 1983, Tom Link, review of Lotus Land, p. 52; July, 2007, Robert Ito, review of Peony in Love, p. 82.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 23, 1995, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, review of On Gold Mountain: The One-hundred-year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family; September 28, 1997, Paula Friedman, review of Flower Net.
New York Times Book Review, August 27, 1995, Elizabeth Tallent, review of On Gold Mountain; October 26, 1997, Gary Krist, review of Flower Net, p. 14; July 22, 2007, "Dead Flowers," p. 20.
People, November 20, 1995, Pam Lambert, review of On Gold Mountain, p. 32; November 3, 1997, review of Flower Net, p. 38.
Publishers Weekly, May 30, 1986, Sybil Steinberg, review of 110 Shanghai Road, p. 53; August 9, 1999, review of The Interior, p. 338; March 24, 2003, review of Dragon Bones, p. 55; April 18, 2005, review of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, p. 40; April 23, 2007, review of Peony in Love, p. 27.
School Library Journal, October, 2003, Judy McAloon, review of Dragon Bones, p. 208; September, 2005, Molly Connally, review of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, p. 245.
USA Today, October 30, 1997, Deirdre Donahue, review of Flower Net; July 14, 2005, Susan Kelly, review of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, p. 7; July 3, 2007, review of Peony in Love, p. 7.
Virginia Quarterly Review, fall, 2005, Tiffany N. Gilbert, review of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.
Washington Post Book World, September 21, 1997, Maureen Corrigan, review of Flower Net; June 26, 2007, "Book World Live; a Young Woman in 17th-century China Returns after Death to Fulfill Her Destiny."
Weekend Edition Sunday, July 1, 2007, review of Peony in Love.
BookPage,http://www.bookpage.com/ (February 17, 2008), Amy Scribner, "Siren Song."
Lisa See Home Page,http://www.lisasee.com (February 17, 2008).
Mostly Fiction,http://www.mostlyfiction.com/ (September 3, 2007), Amanda Richards, review of Peony in Love.