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An evening with Lisa See

By Madison Butkus

Hometown Weekly Reporter

Sponsored by the Burlington Public Library, the Needham Free Public Library shared an online event last Wednesday, July 12th. The event, titled An Evening with Author Lisa See, involved See discussing her latest novel, Lady Tan’s Circle of Women, to over 565 people streaming online.   

See is a New York Times bestselling author of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, Shanghai Girls, China Dolls, and Dreams of Joy. All of her books have been published in 39 different languages. Included within this impressive resume, See was the recipient of the Golden Spike Award from the Chinese Historical Association of Southern California as well as the History Maker’s Award from the Chinese American Museum. Incredibly, she was also named National Woman of the Year by the Organization of Chinese American Women. 

Published on June 6th, 2023, See’s latest novel is about Tan Yunxian who was born into an elite family and is being raised by her grandparents to become a useful woman. She defeats her battles with illness to become a very successful doctor during the Ming dynasty. While she is a proper young woman, Yunxian often finds herself pushing the envelope within her culture and being somewhat of a rebel. 

When See stumbled upon Yunixan’s story in a book she read, she knew she had found someone that she wanted to write about. Starting her writing during the pandemic, See quickly realized the multiple challenges she would face due to the country being shut down. She could not go to China to conduct any research, and on top of this, all libraries were closed so she could not borrow any of the books she needed. Using the money she had saved up for book tours that were no longer happening, See bought the books that she needed and conducted Zoom meetings with different professors to get the information to put within her work. 

As one can assume from the titles listed above, See gravitates towards writing about women within Chinese cultures, specifically female friendships. In regards to this, See stated, “I am a woman. I write about women. I can’t see everybody but I am assuming a lot of people out there are women. And so I have written about mothers and daughters, I’ve written about sisters, but I do keep coming back to female friendship. One of the reasons I keep coming back to it is that this is such a unique relationship that we have in our lives. It’s a very particular kind of intimacy. So while I feel that I write about the bonds of female friendship in ways that female friendship can support us, that we get so much love for it, there are also those sort of dark shadow sides of female friendship. And wherever I see those dark shadows, that’s where I want to go.” 

Lady Tan’s Circle of Women is a truly captivating story about women helping one another. See is currently working on her next novel about the 1871 Los Angeles Chinatown Massacre. This, to date, is the largest mass lynching in the history of our country. The story will be told from the perspective of three Chinese women who were present during this massacre.   

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