China Beat Archive



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August 26, 2010 in The China Beat


Copyright August 26, 2010. Used by permission.


Deanna Fei is author of A Thread of Sky (Penguin Press, 2010), a novel about three generations of women in a Chinese American family. Here, she talks with recent UC Irvine graduate Mengfei Chen.

Mengfei Chen: What were some of your inspirations in writing the book? How did it begin? What experiences informed your writing?

Deanna Fei: A Thread of Sky is the story of a family of Chinese American women who reunite for a tour of their ancestral home. It was inspired by a trip through China’s “must-sees” that I embarked on ten years ago with my mother, my sisters, my aunt and my grandmother — six strong-willed, complicated women herded together for two weeks on a package tour. I was struck by the dramatic possibilities of this set-up, as well as the questions it raised about home and identity, culture and authenticity, travel and migration, history and memory. The tour took place at the end of a year I’d spent studying Chinese at Beijing Normal University. I’d thought I was ready to move on to the next stage of my life: teaching in New York, studying creative writing. But a few years later, I hadn’t stopped thinking about that tour. I started scribbling notes, and the characters began taking on lives of their own, completely apart from their real-life counterparts, and soon I was writing a novel.

I knew that in order to write about my characters’ travels through China with the necessary depth and immediacy, I needed to return. This time, I went back on a Fulbright Grant, intending to stay for another year, researching contemporary Chinese history and soaking up modern life in Shanghai while making periodic trips to the cities on my characters’ itinerary. I became so immersed in my research and writing that my stay eventually stretched to three years, during which my understanding of China continually evolved — and I expect it always will.