By TOM LAVENTURE
AAP staff writer
Mingmei Yip has a new novel coming out, Song of the Silk Road (Kensington Publishing, April 1, 2011), a spiritual, physical and emotional adventure of Chinese most remote desert region.
Lily, an unpublished professional writer working as a waitress in New York City, is alone in life, with both parents now passed away – the abusive father gone since childhood and the mother who sacrificed for her to leave Hong Kong for America to study died still working as a cleaner and refusing to join her daughter in New York.
Although smart and capable, Lily has plenty of talent but low self-esteem. She can’t end a lingering affair with a former graduate school professor who is both married and manipulative.
A letter changes everything.
Lily discovers that she has an aunt whom she has never met or even known existed. She is given a sizeable amount of money to take alone or follow through on the promise of thee million dollars if she chooses to complete a series of tasks in China and mostly in the Taklamakan Desert region.
The journey would take several months and require her to undertake questionable tasks that she would not be aware of until completing the previous one. It would certainly be an adventure but also plenty of danger and uncertainty about its conclusion.
It’s a risk and Lily considers taking the fifty thousand dollars to pay her bills while she works full time on completing her book. But Lily has a ‘yin eye’, an ability to channel energy and sometimes see spirits of the other world – which sometimes speak to her indirectly in her dreams. She had not sensed this ability since her childhood, and its sudden recurrence helped decide in the trip’s favor if only to seek answers about her life.
The Silk Road is a melting pot where cultures mix and elements from China, Central Asia and Middle East all converge. Lily settles into a remote Uighur village in between her tasks and quickly grows fond of the simple community. Here she meets the local healer Lup Nor, who notices immediately that Lily has a special yin eye and the two form an instant bond.
The adventure that follows includes tasks that include swapping a real Chinese artifact with the fake in a museum unbeknownst to staff; seducing a monk; finding a rare herb in the high mountains; and even chipping a piece of a famous terracotta warrior. Along the way she meets Alex, a younger American student and an experienced traveler in the rugged outback who is puzzled at why this young American woman is traveling alone and putting herself at risk.
Alex is smitten and relentlessly pursues Lily, sometimes proving a crucial companion, but his imposition puts her mission in jeopardy. Lily must decide whether to take Alex into her confidence and also what kind of life she will return to in New York.
In addition to love, danger and adventure in China’s Taklamakan Desert, Yip enjoys writing a story on other levels that go beyond the physical with “metaphysical, spiritual, even shamanistic” elements. She said there should be more to the physical world than what we see and encounter on the surface.
In her goal of writing about women who are “strong, daring, determined and will overcome adversities to get what they want in life,” Yip said she uses culture something to bring people together with common values and interests rather than divide. Her stories offer a lesson that passionate love alone is illusionary and that only true love conquers all.
In her first English language novel, Peach Blossom Pavilion, published in 2008, Xiang Xiang is the protagonist of a love story about the last courtesan in China.
In Petals From The Sky, her second novel published in 2010, Yip’s protagonist, Du Meng Ning, is almost autobiographical along with other characters and experiences that were composites of her own life. What her books share in common is an inner strength and fortitude in the women to determine their own fate.
“Though I did not consciously plan it this way, I find I like to write about brave women who live unconventional lives, not always by their own choice,” said Yip. “I owe this novel to a brave and unconventional writer – and a dream.”
Yip said that a favorite Taiwanese author from the 1970s who called herself Echo, and also known as San Mao, who wrote captivating stories based on the adventures in her including with her husband in the Sahara Desert.
An episode of Silk Road is based on one of Echo’s accounts of something that happened to her husband in the desert.
“I always wanted to write about a young woman’s adventures in the desert,” said Yip. “I had thought of drawing on Echo’s life for my desert novel, but then found my imagination led me in a different direction.”
Yip has a lifelong fascination with the romantic history of the Silk Road and she traveled it herself a few years ago with her husband. Together they wandered through ruined cities and ventured up sheer cliffs into now abandoned caves that once housed thriving spiritual communities.
The experience led to a dream about a young woman who receives a letter from an aunt whom she had never even known existed. The letter instructs the niece to undertake a long journey in China, retracing the same routes her newfound aunt had taken years earlier. She was to meet some of the same people, and perform a serious of questionable tasks but with the promise of a large sum of money if successfully completed.
“I remember the dream, but not when it came to me,” Yip adds. “The young woman was not me but she had a strong personality and I knew she wanted me to give her a voice. The result is this adventure and love story, Song of the Silk Road.”
Yip said she has stories for several women characters waiting to be written, including a spy, an embroiderer, and even a witch.
“They all have to struggle to succeed,” she added. “Just as the Chinese say, ‘if you sow a melon, you harvest a melon, if you sow a bean, a bean’.
Yip’s stories resonate perhaps because of her own belief that almost anything is possible if you try hard enough.
Mingmei Yip was born to a scholarly Chinese family. Her father was a professional gambler with a degree in singing from the Beijing Military Defense Conservatory and her mother was an aspiring artist. Yip received her Doctorate from the University of Paris, Sorbonne, on a full academic scholarship from the French Government.
Upon returning to Hong Kong, she held faculty appointments at the Chinese University and Baptist University in Hong Kong. In 2005, she received a research fellowship to the International Institute of Asian Studies in the Netherlands.
Before writing her four English language novels, Yip was a print columnist for major Hong Kong newspapers and published five books in Chinese. She has also appeared on television and radio programs in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mainland China, and the U.S.
After meeting her husband at a Buddhist conference Yip immigrated to the United States in 1992, and now lives in New York City. Her novels have been translated to six languages so far. www.mingmeiyip.com