Prologue: A Lost World
In the Chinese town of Qufu, in Shandong province, is a forest of thousand-year-old cypresses; “jumbled up at their feet” are “acres and acres” of orderly graves, 2,000 years of descendants of Kǒngzi (Confucius). His mound is the biggest (10 feet high) and most distinct, of course, and set apart from the others. It is little more than an “eminent pile of dirt.”
Even now, Hattie Kong, a sixty-eight-year-old American citizen, remembers the site. She grew up in Qingdao, a nearby cosmopolitan port city once occupied by the Germans and now known for its “charming Bavarian architecture.” She can picture her mother, a former missionary who was disavowed for marrying a Chinaman, standing in front of the “anti-monument” and trying to get eight-year-old Hattie to appreciate the spiritual aspects of the site.
Modern Chinese people are more interested in new things than old, wondering if women should really have to obey their husbands as children were expected to obey their parents and why only the male Kongs and their wives are allowed to be buried here. (Unless the men are bald; then they are not allowed to be buried here either.) Nevertheless, Hattie grew up learning to sweep her relatives’ graves every spring and on other commemorative days.
When Hattie was fifteen, her father’s mother proudly announced that they had found someone willing to marry Hattie despite her mixed blood. Later, Hattie’s mother adamantly proclaimed that Hattie must have a choice about who she marries. Hattie’s father wore Western clothes, took English lessons, and agreed with his wife; however, two months later he stopped wearing Western clothes, stopped eating Western food, and stopped reading his Bible.
When Hattie heard, decades later, that the graveyard had been desecrated by the Red Guards, who robbed the graves and even stole the dirt in the mounds, she had nightmares. She was sickened to learn that the villagers she once knew well had helped these ravagers destroy “thousands of years of tradition.” Years later, someone would inform the Kongs where all the bodies were if they wanted to reconstruct the graves.
The ravagers spared Confucius’s broken steles (tall tombstones). Some claim to have gotten some of his bones, although they disintegrated within a few days. Hattie, a former researcher and biology teacher, knows this is “hogwash.” Confucius was her...
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Hattie I: I'll but Lie and Bleed Awhile (Pages 11-20)
Last week a Cambodian family moved in down the hill from Hattie Kong. Riverlake is an old, all-American town, but things are changing now with the arrival of people from other places. Hattie has lived here for two years, ever since Joe and Lee died at almost the same time. (She thought she should have gotten some kind of discount at the crematorium.) Hattie is still sometimes “lonely beyond words.”
Hattie lives on an open, cleared knoll; the Cambodian family is moving onto an awkwardly placed parcel of land down the hill that is barely cleared and nearly always wet. Hattie watches as two halves of a trailer, the Cambodians’ temporary home, drive by down the hill. Inside one of them, she sees a “tea-skinned pipsqueak of a thing with a swinging black ponytail and a shocking-pink jacket” clinging to the trailer’s kitchen. Her job is to keep everything from falling out, but Hattie can see the girl is not strong enough to do her task. Hattie admires her for doing her best. (This comes from her years of teaching, although she had to retire after Joe and Lee died, unable to return to the campus where they had all taught.) When the trailer hits a pothole, a drawer pops out.
Hattie picks up the cheap veneered drawer, planning to return it to the owners. She spends a few rainy days painting bamboo until the sun finally shines again. Outside, Hattie appreciates the landscape, including the trial balloon marking the site of the proposed new cell phone tower. The town will have a meeting about it, which Hattie will attend, but today she visits her new neighbors.
Although the land is swamped, the trailer is in a relatively good spot. Hattie takes the drawer and some cookies to welcome her neighbors. A diminutive man answers her knock. Although he is probably in his mid-sixties (her age), he clearly has been damaged by life under an oppressive regime. His look is so blank and unresponsive that the closed door seemed friendlier. He does not speak much English, but Hattie tells him she is his neighbor and lives in the red house at the top of the hill. He does not respond. She explains why she has his drawer and tells him her name, but he just asks if she is “Chin-ee.”
She explains that her father was Chinese and her mother was white and that she came here when she was sixteen. Her mother taught English at a Methodist mission before she married, so Hattie speaks English well. She used to teach biology...
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Hattie I: I'll but Lie and Bleed Awhile (Pages 21-33)
Hattie Kong is no artist, but she has to re-create herself and painting helps her do that. As she paints, she listens to the sounds of her Cambodians: pounding, chopping, frying, and washing. She is delighted to be able to hear them because she suffers from some hearing loss; she is equally delighted to be able to see them out of one of her windows. “Not spying, exactly.”
Little movement happens until late in the afternoons when the girl sits outside and swats flies as she works either with a knife or a mortar and pestle. Today her jacket is zipped up because she has the baby tucked inside, and both of them are squealing. As soon as Chhung hovers in the doorway, both of them are silent, and the girl begins awkwardly peeling a carrot with her knife.
A delivery man rattles down the hill. Hattie watches the girl greet him and sees a woman in the doorway. Chhung and a boy with a long, blond (obviously died) ponytail receive a large package. Hattie thinks it may be a television, although it is larger than any she has ever seen. That night she confirms her guess as she sees a gigantic television screen playing some show featuring Asians with cell phones. The dogs bark and Hattie stashes her binoculars just before Judy Tell-All appears at the door.
The gossipy woman tells Hattie about the arrival of Carter Hatch. Hatch is the middle son of a professor who died in his laboratory at the age of ninety-nine and whose older brother is still practicing science. Hatch knows Hattie lives here and that her husband is dead (cancer, even though he never smoked) because he took the time to find out, and Judy is certain Hattie wants to know. She does, but she does not tell Judy that.
The Town Hall meeting is the next night. The cell phone people scheduled this meeting for before the “summerlings” would return, hoping for less resistance, but the room is soon nearly overflowing. The gossip begins as soon as Hattie sits down next to Judy; their friend Ginny is leaving her husband, Everett, because God told her to do so. Hattie is distracted, regretting that she did not invite her neighbors to the meeting.
Suddenly Hattie sees Carter Hatch for the first time in ten years. She once knew him well and he now walks, “studiously unhaunted,” down the aisle. He “shoots a smile and a wink” at Hattie and keeps walking; Hatch has always disdained convention. Hattie regrets how much she has recently...
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Hattie I: I'll but Lie and Bleed Awhile (Pages 34-44)
Hattie Kong blames only herself for getting e-mail when the town first got DSL. Now she is besieged by Chinese relatives, educated people, many of whom live in the United States, who want her to send her mother’s remains from Iowa back to Qufu. That is the tradition they all learned from birth: “Fallen leaves return to their roots.” But it is the twenty-first century and the idea seems outrageous to her.
Despite their insistence that her mother’s body belongs in the Kong family forest and their attempts to create guilt by invoking ancestors, bad luck, and tradition, Hattie remains steadfast in her refusal. Each one writes to blame her, indirectly, for any trouble the rest of the family is having either in America or China, based on their superstitions. She has one word for all of their ridiculous arguments—hogwash.
Riverlake is north, so it is frigid until nearly April, and everyone wears appropriate clothing except for sixty-seven-year-old Carter Hatch, who does not cover his balding head and wears nothing but jeans and a flannel shirt with the top two buttons open. Today he comes unexpectedly to visit Hattie, and she is shaken as she watches him bound up her driveway carrying his ancient book bag.
She opens the door, and both of them are surprised enough that their greeting is rather formal. Hattie lets the dogs run outside, and the adults begin to talk. She notices that his shirt is open because the buttons are missing, and so much of how Hatch looks and sounds reminds her of their young days in the laboratory together.
Hattie is shocked when Hatch tells her that his brother, Reedie, died in a drunk-driving accident; at the time, no one knew where to reach her to let her know. Hatch offers his condolences to her for Joe’s death, but all Hattie can do is cry at another loss. Hatch wonders if he somehow contributed to Reedie’s shocking early death because Reedie always felt as if he had to somehow “catch up” to Hatch, even though he had his own research laboratory that Hatch says was actually doing better work than his own.
He has brought his wet suit and a towel and wants Hattie to go swimming with him in the nearly frozen lake. Her wet suit is packed away but she manages to find it, surprised that her body is so unusually aware as she zips herself into the neoprene suit. When she goes back to the porch, Hatch is gone. He may be already be down at the lake, but she...
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Hattie I: I'll but Lie and Bleed Awhile (Pages 45-55)
Hattie can see Chhung and his son working behind their trailer. She thinks the boy should be in school and wonders if the huge garden they are creating will get enough sun to survive. From her teaching experience, she thinks the trouble this family had in Cambodia has followed them to America; if they were thriving, they would not have come to Riverlake.
The boy is strong and stocky, dressed in the city fashion, and he is digging hard in the clay soil. Hattie thinks about telling Chhung to put sand under the clay for drainage. The girl brings the baby over to watch; when the child starts crying, a tiny woman appears with a bottle. She is untraditionally lovely and graceful as she steps through the mud like a dancer; peace reigns in the garden once more.
In three days of digging, the men have created a giant trench, deep enough to bury a car halfway; now they painstakingly haul the dirt away from the hole, rudimentary farming without oxen. Hattie loads some old Nature magazines into her rusty wheelbarrow. She has always liked the feel and usefulness of wheelbarrows, but she is going to give this one to the Chhungs. She wonders if this is a pitiful offering and considers going back home, but the Chhung men are already coming to greet her.
Chhung sends his son back to work and lights a cigarette. Hattie offers him the wheelbarrow; Chhung thanks her and continues smoking. Just as Hattie is about to mention the use of sand in clay ground, Chhung roughly gestures to his daughter watching in the window. In a moment, the girl, her mother, and the baby appear and present Hattie with a box of raisins and a clear plastic box with what seems to be orange peels packed in sugar.
She thanks them, and the pretty girl introduces herself as Sophy (pronounced So-PEE); her mother is Mum. Hattie asks Mum where she is from in Cambodia, but the tiny woman does not speak English. Sophy says her mother is illiterate but is a hard worker and wonders if Hattie knows anyone who needs a house cleaner or a factory worker.
The baby’s name is Gift, as Mum considered him to be a gift. Hattie is surprised to learn the child is a boy; he is dressed in frilly clothing. Sophy explains that someone gave them his clothes. Mum can bake, but she is also a careful worker with even the most complicated things. Mum is a Buddhist who constantly thinks about karma.
Sophy thinks all religion is fake and Hattie...
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Hattie I: I'll but Lie and Bleed Awhile (Pages 56-64)
Hattie’s walking group asks about her past relationship with Hatch, romantically assuming he has come back to Riverlake to be with her. Hattie says he both was and was not the “love of her youth.” She reminds them that Carter may not have come back here just for her and that she did marry Joe, whom she loved, and had a son, Josh. Hattie had loved Joe, “brusque as he could be,” and still reaches for him in her sleep.
Hattie says Carter disappeared when she took too long to find her wetsuit. She has not seen him for about 35 years, except at his father’s funeral 10 years ago, where they did not speak. The rest of his family had been “floored” and pleased that she came. Hattie lived with the Hatches when she first came to America 50 years ago as “kind of a permanent foreign exchange student.” They were friends of some of Hattie’s mother’s relatives and made sure she got through college. She is in Riverlake now because this is where the Hatches had a summer home, and she knew she could afford to live here on her pension.
Several members of the group think it is fine to be single. Carter was married to a woman named Meredith and they had two daughters. He is renting a cottage for a year, apparently to write a book. One of the women says he “thinks all day, writes things down, looks miserable.”
Soon the topic shifts to the Cambodian family, and the group elects Hattie to talk to them about putting their kids in school, saying it's not just because she is a “black-hair” like them. Again Hattie thinks that the family cannot be thriving and remembers the Hatches taking her in so long ago.
Other than the kids not being in school, things seem to be improving for the Chhungs. The wheelbarrow helps, and others occasionally drop off food or offer rides to the family. Sarun shoots hoops and Sophy teaches herself to play the guitar.
Hattie stops painting, bags some cookies, and starts down the hill. As she approaches, she hears Chhung and his son arguing and almost turns around, but they see her and the yelling stops. Chhung again lights a cigarette. Hattie wonders what they are digging that requires such a large hole.
Sophy smiles as she takes the cookies, although tears run down her cheeks. Hattie also has brought some herbal insect repellant to help deter the annoying flies. She offers the still-crying girl a tissue and says she is happy Mum is now cleaning...
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Hattie I: I'll but Lie and Bleed Awhile (Pages 65-74)
On the way to the farmer’s market, Hattie learns that Sarun wrecked two cars while racing and is lucky to be alive. Sophy is outraged that the organic produce at the market costs so much more than what she buys at the supermarket. The girl helps her mother because Mum will never learn to speak English.
Hattie asks to buy Sophy some beautiful peonies, but the girl refuses; Hattie sneaks them anyway and later Sophy is thrilled. Hattie explains that her best friend, Lee, used to love peonies. Hattie has to convince Sophy to borrow a vase (all the Chhungs have is a bottle) and to come in for a snack. Although Sophy is fascinated by all the animals, she pets them timidly.
As Sophy feeds Annie some ice cream, Hattie explains how each of her pets, mostly rescued, came to live with her. Soon Annie is in Sophy’s lap eating cookies and explaining that she has two sisters in foster homes. The Chhungs hope the girls will come here when they get out so they will all be together again. When Hattie asks, Sophy says her sisters had to leave because she “was wild” and sinned. Hattie asks (she hopes in a nonthreatening way) to hear more, but Sophy says thanks and races off, almost forgetting her flowers.
Adelaide, the new, young yoga teacher, is moving, and Hattie is surprised to see that Hatch is the temporary teacher. The group of older ladies gathers as they would have for Adelaide, but Hatch is nothing like Adelaide. He starts class by telling them that yoga begins with the head and humorously explains how yoga enhances and retrains the brain as well as makes the body more flexible. The women enjoy him, and Hattie is surprised at how flexible Hatch is. While Adelaide took a more gentle approach, Hatch is persistent and encourages the women to work harder.
Hatch quietly touches Hattie and calls her Miss Confucius, bringing tears to her eyes; he simply whispers “don’t” before turning his attention back to the class. They talk after class, and Hatch explains that he uses yoga for his back and his sanity. She asks him why he left the other day, and he tells her he knew she was not coming back to the door with her wetsuit. She does not tell him she did exactly that.
Hatch asks if she would like to see the boat he is building. Hattie says most people think he is writing a book, but Hatch has realized he has nothing more to say. In fact, he may actually begin an “anti-writing...
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Hattie I: I'll but Lie and Bleed Awhile (Pages 75-87)
As Hattie and Hatch walk arm-in-arm toward his cottage, Hattie thinks that so much and yet nothing has happened between them. In his woodshop, Hatch shows her his “skin-on-frame kayak-in-progress.” He appreciates the Inuit philosophy that valued fishing, boats, and survival more than material things and cared more for this life than the next.
The name of his boat is Disconcerted because his life has become “one long concerted effort,” and he wants to get off track. For his work on genomes, his brother Anderson is expecting the Nobel Prize, which his father never got and only half-wanted, so Hatch is not under much pressure.
They mention Hatch’s father’s funeral. Hatch was glad she came, even though she “left without saying hello.” Hatch understands that she wanted to avoid him and felt ambivalent toward his father. His ex-wife Meredith used to say Hatch “worked on the eye in order to avoid seeing.” For example, he never really cared about science but spent his life at it, caught up in the web his father created.
Meredith was a judge until she left him and the bench to become a Buddhist. She died without ever asking to see Hatch. His daughter Maisy got married and did not invite him because she thought he disdained weddings and would disapprove of her fiancé, a carpenter. Although Maisy’s data is correct, she came to the wrong conclusion.
Hatch has come here to “spin his own web.” His work was beginning to deteriorate, so he quit and someone else took over his work; he once said that his father’s greatest challenge would be to accept his decline with grace.
Hatch is sorry they had “that misunderstanding” that caused her to leave his father’s laboratory and eventually leave research completely; he did not “go to bat” for her when a job became available. Hattie never blamed him for the incident, knowing he just did what he was trained to do, but she resents his assumption that she would stay in contact with him.
Hattie did research in another laboratory, taught in a private school, met Joe, and had her son, Josh. Hatch’s mother would have searched for Hattie if she had not gotten sick, a fact Hattie never knew. After the doctors finally got her medication adjusted correctly, Mrs. Hatch improved and is now ninety-eight. Hattie is angry that Hatch did not come for her, but Hatch suggests that whatever they were or were not together,...
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Hattie I: I'll but Lie and Bleed Awhile (Pages 88-98)
Hattie’s son Josh works for the radio, occasionally e-mailing his mother to let her know what stories he is working on and where he is. Each time she hears from him is rare enough that it seems like “an event.”
Today he calls and talks about the girl (also a reporter) he has been dating for two months, Serena. She is the daughter of a diplomat, a “third-culture kid” who has three passports; he is meeting her parents in Dehli this weekend. She is twenty-three and Josh is thirty-two, but she believes worrying about such things is old fashioned.
Josh and Hattie tease, but sometimes Hattie wonders if her son is hiding behind his joking as much as behind his reporting. His father Joe wanted him to be tough, so he would take him into the woods for weeks at a time, leaving Josh alone for a day or two when he was only nine years old. Josh always insisted he liked being left alone, “except the time a snake came.”
Hattie tells Josh about her neighbors from Cambodia and reminds Josh he is always welcome to come home. Serena believes maintaining relationships in person is also old fashioned.
Hattie invites Sophy to go to the farmer’s market again. Chhung greets her and abruptly explains that all four of his grandparents were Chinese; she smiles and says that makes him Chinese Cambodian; he is “Overseas Chinese,” almost like her. He grew up in the country and never learned Chinese; now he claims fate has sent Hattie to teach Sophy how to speak Chinese. He offers to pay her, but Hattie says she will do it gladly as a favor
Soon “she and Sophy have a routine.” They go to the farmer’s market, have a lesson, play with the dogs, and eat cookies while Hattie teaches Sophy about many things. In return, Sophy describes “how her dad flips out sometimes” and says her mother misses Cambodia. Sophy asks about Pol Pot and is shocked when Hattie explains who he was and what he did.
The Khmer Rouge has destroyed Cambodia and taken over everything, which is why her family came here. Chhung met Sophy’s mother in the refugee camp; they were each married before and have only a common-law marriage now. Mum hides some of the money she earns to give to the temple, but Sarun is “in business” with his “old gang” and always has money.
Chhung wants his children to go to college and is ashamed of his wife for not adapting more to American ways. He claims that if...
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Hattie I: I'll but Lie and Bleed Awhile (Pages 99-107)
At the grocery store, Hattie tells Everett she is sorry about “his news.” He bitterly says he has wasted 37 years, nearly his entire life. Not quite knowing what to say next, Hattie says she was married for 31 years before her husband died of cancer. This seems to sidetrack Everett for a moment and he commiserates with Hattie over her loss, but soon he is recounting his own woes.
Ginny’s father was a farmer. After he died of heart trouble, Ginny (Everett’s wife) suddenly found Jesus, lost the farm, and wanted Everett gone. Last week she put all his clothes outside in the rain; he brought them in and hung them in their living room to dry, high enough that Ginny could not reach them because of her bad hip. The clothes are still hanging there.
Everett condemns Ginny for being the kind of Christian who makes judgments about who is going to heaven and who is going to hell but refuses to see that people all around her are suffering. Hattie’s mother called that “a blinding way of seeing.” Everett asks Hattie to point out this flaw to Ginny, but she is hesitant; Everett gets disgusted with her hedging and leaves.
This morning, Sophy pounds on Hattie’s door and says her father is hurt and Hattie has to come. Hattie is still in her robe, but she puts on her walking shoes and hurries down to the trailer. Chhung is lying on a mattress in the bedroom, looking frantic and sweaty as he clutches a pillow. Mum is hovering over her husband.
Chhung was digging and now has a pain in his left buttock which runs down his leg. There is no telephone because the bill has not been paid, so Hattie goes home to call. A nurse practitioner diagnoses a probable herniated disc with resultant sciatica but says Chhung that should be seen by a doctor.
Hattie needs to know if the Chhungs have any insurance and calls the church who owns the property on which the trailer sits; the woman who answers says the Chhungs have caused a “situation” in the church because the family is not Christian.
Hattie hangs up on her and calls Ginny’s church, Heritage Bible Church, which comes regularly to drive the family. Surprisingly, someone at the church returns her call and offers to have one of its members, an EMT, examine Chhung for free.
The next morning, ladies from the church talk about the Chhungs. Ginny says Chhung used to be an engineer. Now he has to stop digging and wear a brace. The...
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Sophy: How They Even Got Here (Pages 111-121)
When he is feeling happy, Sophy’s father talks about how a country must have two wheels: religion and the law. It only runs smoothly—runs at all—when the wheels are equally strong. Pol Pot corrupted the wheel of the law and crippled Cambodia.
Chhung talks about the old days when Cambodians were strong, educated, and advancing; then a series of invasions began. This is history, but it also explains why the Chhungs are so poor today.
Chhung’s “real wife” was a Chinese Cambodian like him; she was tall, rich, beautiful, elegant, multilingual, and proper in every way. When they got married, Chhung stood on the graves of his ancestors to tell them, and a white flower immediately opened.
Now he talks about her as if all their troubles would be gone if she were still alive, living in Phnom Penh in the “fancy concrete house with two floors” he bought there. If the soldiers had not taken her away to marry one of the Khmer Rouge, she would not have refused and been buried alive, with only her head unburied. Chhung would not have found her and she would not have refused to eat and died. Everything for them would have been different.
Chhung’s brother was killed by mistake; the Khmer Rouge meant to kill Chhung, the educated brother. Mum was married to Chhung’s brother, and she and Chhung were thrilled to find each other in the refugee camp; they were looking for people they knew and discovered Sarun, his sister’s child. Chhung had not seen him for a long time but recognized him by a scar that all the family knew about. Mum had heard of the nephew with the scar too, and to them it was “their fate to find the baby and save him.” The Chhungs have to stay together now because “they’re all that’s left.” Their lives are too complicated to explain to anyone else.
Chhung has diabetes but does not believe in it and will not change any of his behaviors. Sophy used to go with him to the doctor and got tired of trying to translate her father’s fears, knowing Chhung would not stop eating white rice or smoking. He mostly sits and watches either sports on their huge television or looks at the display of religious figures on the table in front of him. Sometimes he plays with his drafting tools.
When Chhung is drunk, he curses Pol Pot and threatens to kill his daughters if they go with boys. He is ashamed to have had children with Mum and is...
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Sophy: How They Even Got Here (Pages 122-131)
Chhung’s first name was Souen, but he had to have a city name when he moved there and changed it to Ratanak. He had to change it back to Souen when the Khmer Rouge made everyone leave Phnom Penh. City names are difficult for Mum to pronounce, so she sometimes still calls him Souen. She has not learned English, she says, because it requires speaking. She is good with her hands, but she is not good with her mouth. Chhung says she just likes to act deaf and dumb, like she did in Phnom Penh.
Mum believes the reason she speaks so little is because of the teacher who lived next door to them in their last town. She walked around nearly naked, and Chhung, of course, liked to look at her. The woman was educated, spoke English, and “made eyes at” Chhung; what scared Mum most was that the woman seemed to want to take her baby, Gift.
Mum is a devout Buddhist, quite concerned about karma, and wants to live with her family in the next life rather than see them all killed—or be the first to be killed, like her father was. She constantly worries that Gift’s mother from his last life will come to take him away from her. She has a sadness hidden deep inside her tiny body.
Sophy is sorry her actions made her sisters look bad and wants them to come back home.
Ronnie was a Cambodian boy who embraced his heritage; he was a musician who had the attitude, ego, and habits of a rock star. Eventually he and Sophy became intimate and she left her house, where she knew she would be beaten, to live with Ronnie’s family. He taught her to play guitar, and they made plans for their future until somebody, probably from a rival gang, “ratted on them.” Sophy was arrested as a runaway and a shoplifter.
In the courtroom, her parents said she was “no good,” and they did not want her. There was a moment when Sophy thought her father understood what it was like to feel like a caged bird, but he let her be taken to a foster home. Ronnie tried to visit her and she tried to write to him, but they never connected. Things got too dangerous for Ronnie and he had to go back to school for his own protection.
Sophy hated her foster home; everyone smelled and she had to go to a very loud church. Her sister Sopheap told Sophy that Ronnie was with another girl now. Sophy cried for a time and then ran away, back to her family. Her sisters and mother were glad to have her back, but two days later the police...
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Sophy: How They Even Got Here (Pages 132-142)
Sophy is taken to a group home for girls known to be a “training program for whores.” Others begin to look down on her sisters because of Sophy, and soon they are getting in trouble too.
Sophan runs away with a Vietnamese boy and Sopheap runs away with a Latino drug dealer. Sophan’s best friend, a Cambodian girl, is named valedictorian of her class. Sophy now understands that her family’s problems are not due to their nationality.
Sarun is the “lucky one.” The worst that happens to him is that he is beaten up at school as well as at home; in Cambodia, children become civilized by being beaten by anyone in authority: monks, teachers, and parents. Chhung sees it as his responsibility to beat Sarun. At least he is not in a foster home like his sisters.
Sophy runs away to visit her family and discovers that her sisters are gone. They may lose Gift as well. Chhung was drunk one night and held the baby out the window as he threatened to drop him; the neighbor reported it. Now he cries and says he is the one who “made everyone disappear,” and he promises to change. Sophy apologizes for bringing shame on her entire family and says they have to move away to avoid trouble.
When Sarun arrives, he is surprised but not high, as he usually is. He agrees that moving is a good idea. His friend had just been shot, and Sarun realizes “this town [is] ugly.” When Mum announces she will learn English, the family is decided. They will move and, as soon as they can, they will come back to get Sophan and Sopheap.
Moving is the Chhungs’ fate. The bus rides are long, but the family is almost happy. People from the church meet them and take the family with their thirteen bags to a house where they can stay temporarily. The “woman in charge of them” is a cheerful lady named Ruth. Everything in the house is soft, warm, and pretty. The family is taken to church services every day and feels like a “regular family” for four days.
Life in the trailer is quite different: cold, mildew, wild animals, and mountains hemming them in like walls. Mum worries that her daughters will not know where to find the family.
Chhung does not trust Hattie. He begins digging a drainage ditch because the ground is too wet, and he hopes eventually to be able to grow something. Mum is learning English, Sarun is out of the gang, and Sophy is “perfect as an angel.” There are too many...
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Sophy: How They Even Got Here (Pages 143-150)
Sophy has begun praying to something other than the Buddha, and she knows her parents would not approve. Being Cambodian means being Buddhist, but the blue car from the second church (after the church that brought them here changed pastors and quit supporting the Chhungs) keeps coming to the trailer. Mum always says no and the mute driver, Lynn, is never offended; but one day Sophy asks her father (who is high) if she can go and he agrees.
Sophy loads Gift into the car, eager to see different things on this drive than she usually sees on the way to the grocery store. No other houses have stacked crates instead of steps, and many of them have flowers and other lovely things; the sight of one quaint house makes her cry.
The church center is located two towns away from Riverlake in an old white house. Sophy is warmly welcomed, and Gift plays with trucks and other toys in the basement. Other girls bring the children they are caring for here too and say they are blessed to be able to come here. Sophy understands and feels blessed, too.
The others are surprised that Sophy has never been to a Bible study and that she did not even know that was what the blue car was bringing her here for; they are thrilled to have Sophy as part of their group.
Sophy is given a Bible and begins to learn. Before class, the girls visit while they supervise all the children. Sophy learns so much about other things at the Bible studies, which is one of the main reasons she keeps coming back. Sophy is nineteen and the others are only fifteen or sixteen. One of the girls, Simone, is Vietnamese, and from talking with her Sophy realizes that not all Vietnamese are the same, just as Cambodians are not all the same.
Sophy is rather lost during the first Bible study session, led by a woman named Ginny. Everyone in the group talks about the people in the Bible as if they are real, and after the study they go downstairs to sing and have refreshments. One day after a lesson on asking and receiving, Sophy prays, and God answers her prayer the next day: someone gives Gift a jacket.
Sophy discovers that Ginny is Hattie’s friend and is the one who has been sending the car. Ginny just knew one day Sophy would use it; when Sophy “just knows” something, Ginny will show her the church sanctuary.
One day Sophy discovers the sanctuary herself and loves everything about it. Instead of hoping and waiting...
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Sophy: How They Even Got Here (Pages 151-161)
Several weeks later, the church holds its yearly “special camp meeting.” Sophy enjoys the activities and the food, and she feels special when she is able to meet the girls from her Bible study, her friends, in the midst of so many strangers.
The preacher talks about all the times in his life when he did bad things, followed by Jesus talking to him and helping him to change. According to the preacher, God only chastises His children to help them change and become more like Him.
When the preacher asks for those who are “carrying a weight,” an inescapable burden of sin that weighs them down and keeps them from experiencing joy and freedom, to come to the altar, Sophy’s friend Renee walks up and Sophy walks with her. When Sophy kneels, she realizes that the preacher is talking specifically to her; she remembers all the terrible things she did with Ronnie and begins crying like everyone else around her.
Ginny comes to pray with her, and Sophy tells her everything. For the first time, Sophy tells someone that she discovered she was pregnant with Ronnie’s baby when she was in the foster home. She was sick, miserable, and tired, and one day she woke up in a “circle of blood” and her stomach was cramping. She managed to get to the bathroom, which was mercifully empty, and sat on the toilet for a long time as her three-month-old baby “came out of her.” She wanted to die.
Ginny listens sympathetically and says Sophy is not alone because everyone is a sinner. God spared Sophy from a possible abortion and then He brought her here, where she could hear the message of salvation.
Sophy knows the things she did were wrong and is sorry she did them. Ginny assures the girl that God has not only forgiven but forgotten her sins, and one day Sophy will forget as well. The next day Ginny gives Sophy a necklace with a silver cross, and Sophy says she will always wear it.
Sophy cries through every Bible study meeting for the next few weeks. The lessons begin to “sink in deeper,” and she feels a peace in her heart. Ginny teaches that one must have faith that God will take care of everything, but it is a hard lesson for Sophy.
The group also talks about being a believer in God when one’s family has different beliefs. Sophy manages to get to church one Sunday when the pastor talks about this, and in the next Bible study the girls all share the people who are most...
(The entire section is 501 words.)
Hattie II: Rising to Fight Again (Pages 165-175)
There is an unknown white van in Riverlake, the kind of van used for carrying equipment rather than people. Hattie sees it drive up and down the street until it finally stops in front of the Chhungs; when Sarun gets into the back of it, Hattie sees four or five black-haired kids before the van roars away.
When Hattie later tells Sophy about the van incident, Sophy does not react, but she is clearly upset by the news. Hattie tries to comfort her, but Sophy says Hattie does not understand. Sarun had said he would quit the gang and her family is trying to start over, so Sophy is silently distraught.
Chhung and Sarun used to dig together, but now Chhung positions himself in a chair, keeping guard over the pit and his son. The two eat their lunches together, but otherwise Sarun “works like a machine” as he digs. It is a peaceful scene until later in the day when Chhung is high and the pair begins an “awful duet.” Hattie can hear them even with her windows shut, and she usually turns on the radio to find some peace; whatever the Chhungs argue about, “the result is not peace.”
When Sarun walks past his father, he scuttles by with his head down, trying not to aggravate him. When Chhung is angry, he commands Sarun to kneel, which he does, so Chhung can smack him in the back of the head with a rolled-up newspaper. If his father has to reach too far, Sarun obediently moves closer. Even then, Chhung sometimes misses, and Sarun waits patiently for his father to recover his balance and try again.
Hattie wants to look away from the scene every time she sees it, but she is compelled to watch. She even imagines she hears the sound, “hearing with [her] heart’s ear,” as her mother used to say.
From Sophy, Hattie learns that Chhung hits Sarun because of the troublemakers in the van who might want the television back; despite that, Sarun will probably go with the gang because the family needs the money his activities provide.
Judy Tell-All gossips to Hattie that Hatch is dating Jill Jenkins, a woman 15 years younger than Hatch. Sophy comes to tell Hattie that Sarun has run away, perhaps in the van, and that Chhung is “flipping out.” Immediately Hattie drives Mum, Sophy, and Gift (Chhung refuses) to look for him. She drives them through mountains, open fields, and the valley, through all the small neighboring towns, and they find Sarun walking toward a bus station.
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Hattie II: Rising to Fight Again (Pages 176-186)
Everett is waiting on the street corner for Hattie’s walking group to pass him; when they do, he casually joins them. The ladies say they do not mind, but they find “a man in their midst” a bit disconcerting, especially since it becomes clear that he wants something.
After walking in companionable silence (and seeing Jill Jenkins riding with Neddy Needham, which causes a stir), Everett announces that Ginny has changed the locks on the door to the house he built. She claims the house is hers because it was paid for with the money from the sale of her father’s farm, ignoring the fact that she and Everett have been married for 37 years.
Now Everett lives in a tent and is “neighbors with a rose bush.” He calmly claims he is going to kill himself, but he does not mean it. He figures he might as well do it, however, since he gave everything he had and is to Ginny for nearly his entire life.
The women commiserate with Everett, telling him he probably feels used; they also make excuses for Ginny, suggesting that perhaps she only thought she loved him all those years.
What Everett wants is for the women to tell Ginny what she has done to him; she is not likely to see her own fault in this, but he will feel better. Hattie is determined to do this favor for Everett because she hedged the last time he asked her to help.
Ginny calmly eats pie as the women tell her that Everett threatened to kill himself, is living in a tent, and feels as if he has been used and his whole life has been wasted. Ginny says she is “doing the will of the Lord,” and it is not her fault that Everett has chosen to “remain in ignorance and darkness.” Even more, she claims that Everett has made her suffer.
Ginny stands up to leave, looking more energized and happy than when the women arrived. The women fume and ridicule Ginny’s church as being “fanatic.” Someone tells Hattie she should try to get Sophy involved in something other than Ginny’s church, but no one has any suggestions.
The cell tower has been approved, and the man who granted the permit has left town with his family. Someone has been stealing plywood from the cell tower project, but the town is not “exactly distraught.” The plywood is stamped with the company’s name, and "No Trespassing" signs are posted.
Hattie offers to try to find someone to teach Sophy to play the guitar. Hatch reluctantly...
(The entire section is 501 words.)
Hattie II: Rising to Fight Again (Pages 187-198)
Hattie meeting Hatch was unlikely, but they met through unusual circumstances.
When the fighting in China began, Hattie’s mother begged a missionary couple who had just lost their daughter in the fighting to take Hattie to America as their daughter. A few cosmetic changes, and Hattie passed as their daughter; soon after, she was eating dinner with her mother’s family in Iowa. Everything there was different.
Grandpa Amos thanked God for bringing Hattie there, but Hattie’s grandmother was more critical. Both grandparents preached damnation and salvation to Hattie. It was not feasible for Hattie to stay with them, so her Uncle Jeremy, an anthropologist, sent her to his friends, fellow scientists who lived in a more urban setting. He sold the Hatches on the deal by telling them to think of her as a foreign exchange student who would teach their children Chinese.
The Hatches were an overwhelmingly musical family. Hattie was seventeen and Carter Hatch was a tall, gangly fifteen year old. Other than Hatch's mother, Hattie was the only one who would listen when he played. He was the sweet, charming, sensitive son.
None of the boys particularly liked learning Chinese (in addition to French and Latin), but they understood Hattie’s tragic reasons for coming here and tried to be kind.
The boys were interested in Hattie’s connection to Confucius, although she told them she was barely a twig on his family tree. They teased her, calling her “Miss Confucius,” but Hattie was always aware that she thought and felt things differently from Americans and missed many things about China. Often their teasing caused her to hibernate in her room. Here she was a foreigner, a stranger.
She taught the boys but they also taught her many things; Carter taught her the most.
Hattie and Hatch were friends, but one night during winter break from college, they were intimate. Afterwards, they agreed it was a mistake. Hattie was relieved that she and Hatch never spent any other vacations together. Everything might have been fine if she had not pursued biology.
Everett is building a tall, barnlike structure to live in; it will block Ginny’s view. He has been spraying apple scent in the yard to attract deer, and the creatures have been ruining her garden.
Sophy has had two guitar lessons, and today she plays and sings for Hattie. They talk about Sophy’s church, a...
(The entire section is 509 words.)
Hattie II: Rising to Fight Again (Pages 199-206)
After majoring in biology in college, Hattie got a job teaching Chinese at a private school. She liked it well enough to stay until Doctor Hatch asked her if she liked her job. When she said she liked some parts but not others, he suggested she should “go back into science.”
By this time, Hattie no longer avoided Carter, and he arrived at the house during this conversation. Doctor Hatch reminded her that she was quite good at science, something she had forgotten. Hattie had a natural interest in how things worked and understood that there were many things she did not know about the world.
Carter winked at her but kept his distance; Hattie tried to focus on her conversation with his father. She had always been interested in “what we can’t see, because of how we see.” Carter had been doing work with nerves and muscles, the information that comes in through the eyes but gets “filtered out by the brain.”
Doctor Hatch was aware that she felt different and admonished her not to accept “not fitting in” because “no one fits in.” He wanted her to make herself become “part of the picture.” If necessary, she should remake it. Doctor Hatch’s mother was once in her situation, but he did not elaborate. Doctor Hatch noted that Hattie studiously avoided Carter.
Hattie was twenty-four-years old and had heard nothing from her parents in years, although she was still in touch with her family in Iowa. Sometimes Hattie felt like drowning herself, but she refused to do so in an American lake. In China, people would find her and think of poetry; here they would think she was crazy.
Hattie earned her doctorate degree while working on synaptic transmission, and the laboratory she worked in got “folded” into Carter’s. She no longer felt awkward around him, although they were not close. He still called her Miss Confucius occasionally, and everyone in the laboratory saw that she and Carter shared an uncanny connection. Hattie was dating Joe, and Hatch was married to Meredith, who tried unsuccessfully to restrict his research for her convenience. The research was exhilarating.
Joe and Hattie had no secrets, and Joe was jealous of Hattie’s complicated feelings for Hatch. In Joe’s final days, he grew angry and asked Hattie why she did not marry Hatch. She said nothing but knew that she and Hatch were different in nearly every way.
For Hatch, integrity was...
(The entire section is 503 words.)
Hattie II: Rising to Fight Again (Pages 207-219)
Somebody from the church donates a computer to Sophy’s family, and Sophy immediately contacts her sisters via e-mail. She excitedly tells Hattie about their lives and says she tries to talk to them about her newly found faith. She is worried about Hattie, too, wondering if she is “with Christ.”
Hattie explains that her mother was a missionary to China who eventually discovered she could no longer try to convert people, unwilling to believe that baptism is the “only door to a sanctified life.” She believed people are more important than whether they are with Christ or not.
Sophy thinks about this, and Hattie asks if her church teaches that her family is condemned to hell because they do not believe as she does. Ginny has warned Sophy that she can still love her family but needs to distance herself from them.
Hattie tries to explain that her mother believed in universal salvation rather than “salvation by faith through grace” as the only way to God. Hattie quietly assures the girl that she is a woman of faith, but Sophy gets upset when Hattie implies that Sophy just believes everything Ginny tells her. Sophy leaves without shutting the door.
Value-Mart wants to build in Riverlake, and the citizens are in an uproar at the town meeting until the store’s representative begins talking soothingly about all the new jobs which will come to town. Greta finally stands and cites another case in which Value-Mart bullied a town, using the courts, into allowing it to build. Others join the discussion and soon the crowd is outraged. Hatch makes a motion to go to the next seemingly unrelated agenda item; his eyes signal to Hattie and she immediately seconds his motion.
Hatch makes a series of points that seem to be disconnected, and Hattie is afraid “the love of her youth—of her life, even, maybe—“ is losing his senses. Instead, Hatch makes a brilliant move that will effectively keep Value-Mart from locating in Riverlake.
Hatch winks at Hattie and later she congratulates him, as does the entire town. He is wearing a silver pendant, and Sophy is now wearing a small silver cross.
Sophy cut her own hair and it is horribly crooked, but Hattie tells her she looks “fetching.” She cut it because “it is supposed to keep [her] from temptation,” but she asks Hattie to help. Sophy is pleased with her haircut (Hattie thinks the new haircut makes Sophy even more...
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Hattie II: Rising to Fight Again (Pages 220-229)
Hattie has quit giving Chinese lessons to Sophy now that she is going to school; Chhung asks her to give Mum English lessons instead. She offers to teach him as well, but he declines; however, he turns the television off and pulls his chair quite close when she is teaching Mum.
Today is September 12, the day after the terrorist attacks, and Hattie tries to explain the Chhungs that everything in America has changed. As she describes what is almost indescribable, Chhung thinks it is just a movie he would not like, and Hattie realizes the thousands of tragic deaths are nothing compared to the millions the Chhungs and even her own parents have seen.
Eventually Chhung confidently says the Americans will quickly destroy whoever is responsible. Hattie knows this tragedy has created a divide between her and her past. She has left Joe and Lee behind and “she’s gone on.”
Mum’s English lessons are going moderately well. At the third lesson, Mum haltingly shares her concern about Sarun and his gang activities and asks Hattie about her children. When Hattie explains that she has a son but that he is gone, Mum says that in Cambodia the children do not leave, so it must be hard for Hattie to live alone. Hattie admits that it is, and Mum expresses her concerns about Sarun leaving in the white van and Sophy leaving in the blue car. The women sit in silence before continuing the lesson.
Today there is no lesson as Sarun has run away again. Hattie offers to search for him again, and this time the entire family goes with her. They have no luck finding Sarun, but when Hattie suggests they call the police, Sophy explains they cannot involve the authorities because she is a runaway and her parents may have an abuse charge filed against them. “They head back home to a terrible wait.”
It rains for the next week, and then the sun and Sarun both appear. Mum explains that Sarun and his friends went to Canada to eat fruit. The fruit is better there, and she gives some to Hattie to sample; Hattie finds it all delicious but asks if that is all Sarun was doing in Canada. Both Chhungs are relieved and insist that is all Sarun did, but Chhung’s shirt pocket is quite heavy.
One day Hattie is looking for one of her dogs (and hoping he has not been killed by a fisher living near the lake) when she meets Hatch and Sophy. Hatch wants her to hear Sophy play and sing. Hattie is reluctant at first, but...
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Hattie II: Rising to Fight Again (Pages 230-241)
Everett’s new home is “driving [Ginny] nuts.” She feels as if Everett is always watching her. The gossipy townspeople turn on Ginny; they are people who, “when they see a wall falling, come to help push.”
Sarun, once deferential to his father, is now arrogant and brazen. Chhung drinks too much, and constantly yells at Sarun. One night Hattie sees Sarun with his hands fastened behind his back and Chhung beating him with what looks like a belt. The beating stops and Sophy brings her father something to drink; Hattie is relieved until the beating resumes. Chhung has traded the belt for a knife.
Hattie calls 911 and runs down the hill. She hears banging and crashing inside the trailer and pounds on the door. Sophy opens it a crack; Sophy calls Hattie a “nosy old busybody” and says she is imagining things. Before she leaves, Hattie warns that the police are on their way; she is too tired to watch what happens.
Two days later Hattie musters her courage and goes to give Mum an English lesson. Chhung does not speak but lets her in; Hattie finds Sophy and says she is worried and always willing to listen. Angrily, Sophy says her father is right that Sarun has to stop his gang activities, but she claims Hattie is old and “seeing things.” Ginny has warned Sophy to question Hattie’s motives when she brings the family cookies or offers Chinese lessons. Hattie asks if Sophy has ever questioned the motives of the church which sends a car for her. Ginny believes Hattie is a lonely, desperate old woman who enjoys spying on her neighbors. Hattie calmly says she only called the police because Chhung had a knife. Sophy throws a shoe at her.
Hattie’s walking club discusses the Chhung’s problems, and they suggest Ginny go ask Sophy what she knows. At their next gathering, Ginny, with tears in her eyes, tells Hattie that Sophy is ready to talk to Hattie again, as if Ginny has somehow prepared her. Instead, Hattie goes to see Hatch and explains Ginny’s unusual interest in the van, which is somehow connected to the beatings. Sophy needs help and Hattie asks Hatch to talk to her.
Hatch asks some reasonable questions, and Hattie is “reassuringly irritated” by his familiar scientific approach. Hattie’s fear is that Sophy is being indoctrinated and “airbrushed out,” as she once was; Hatch reasons that believing in something that gives a context for the human race cannot be wrong. He...
(The entire section is 504 words.)
Hattie II: Rising to Fight Again (Pages 242-255)
Hattie has trouble concentrating on her walking group's gossip (instigated by Ginny) about five thousand dollars worth of missing plywood. Instead she thinks about her conversation with Hatch. When she gets home, Hattie discovers her beloved dog Cato has died. She cries as she drags him out of the house. Cato was with her through Joe’s and Lee’s deaths, and now Hattie has no one to remember them with her.
Josh calls to tell her about meeting his girlfriend’s parents. It went well and Serena’s mother was glad to learn that Josh is part Chinese. If the couple ever has children, they will be a blend of many cultures. Hattie does not tell him that Cato died.
A fire was set at the construction site which Everett oversees, and the women in town (again prompted by Ginny) are convinced the white van gangsters set it to cover their theft from the site, but Hattie dissuades them as there is little evidence. Lumber is missing and the fire appears to be from an electrical trouble (which is unlikely, since Everett is an electrician), but it may not have been Sarun’s gang.
To retaliate for Everett’s actions, Ginny harasses him in return. She has taken down her “No Hunting” signs and now allows anyone to hunt deer and even bears on her property. Everett is in trouble. He cannot pay his subcontractors or the lumberyard, people leave him food at the base of his platform hut, and he is now virtually treed by the hunters because of Hattie. Everett is alive, and that is the best anyone can say for him. The yoga studio is only fifteen feet from Ginny’s property line and they are all rather nervous about the young hunters, so Hatch dismisses class early.
One morning a young policeman comes to the Chhung’s trailer and questions Sarun, but Hattie cannot tell what they discuss. In the middle of the night, Sophy bangs on Hattie’s door, begging her to come. At the trailer, Hattie discovers a gruesome sight: Sarun, gashed and bleeding profusely. She finally convinces Sophy to call 911 and tries to stop Sarun’s bleeding, but his skull is “mush” where there should be bone. He is barely breathing.
The EMTs arrive and bandage the boy as they ask what happened. Immediately Hattie says an unknown attacker hurt Sarun; the EMTs are suspicious but say nothing. As the women all pray in their own ways, Hattie realizes Chhung hit Sarun with the shovel. As Hattie drives Mum, Sophy, and Gift to the...
(The entire section is 501 words.)
Hattie II: Rising to Fight Again (Pages 256-269)
Sopheap and Sophan are just in Riverlake for a visit, since it seemed as if Sarun might die. The doctors drilled holes in his head to release the pressure, and now their brother is likely to live. Sophy explains that Chhung “went wild” because Sarun would not—or could not—extricate himself from the gang. First the gang brought the Chhungs a television set, then the members kept sending Sarun e-mails, and then Sarun went back to doing things with them. This infuriated Chhung, even though Sarun gave his father money. A policeman came just to question Sarun, but their father lost control.
Hattie hired someone to come clean the bloody room. If anyone asks, the girls are supposed to say that an attacker hurt Sarun. The girls can see their brother tomorrow. The blue car from the church drives the Chhung’s for the next few days; when Hattie drives Sophy again, her sisters have already returned to their foster homes. Sarun has been asking for Hattie and her cookies; Hattie says she will visit soon. Sarun’s prognosis is excellent.
Sophy tells Hattie that it was hard to be around so much “godless chatter” when her sisters were here, but they liked Hattie much more than they liked Ginny. Hattie explains that she has no ulterior motive in befriending the Chhungs. She is on old woman whose husband and best friend are gone, and it is an undisputable fact that she needs other people more than they need her. She is physically old, but she has “been older longer than most people,” or perhaps coming to America made her old. Sophy does not really understand.
Sophy admits Ginny is behind the rumors that the gang stole the plywood and started the fire; this would get Everett in trouble and ensure the evil Sarun would leave. Sophy says the terrorist attack was sent by God so she and Ginny could use everyone’s heightened suspicions to blame Sarun and his gang. Even worse, Sophy confesses that she set the fire, with Ginny’s instruction, and is a bad person.
Sarun had the idea to smuggle bear parts (paws, gall bladders) into Canada, and Sophy knew he would get caught because God is on the side of right. Sophy speaks all of this in the language of a devout, almost fanatical, believer; she sounds like Ginny. Hattie knows scripture, too, and she comforts Sophy in her misery. As Hattie drops Sophy off to visit Sarun, Sophy miserably proclaims that she is sorry she was even born.
Ginny is out...
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Everett: What Went Wrong, Now (Pages 273-284)
Everett sits in his tree-house shack and wishes he were somewhere else. He also wishes the Cambodian boy (Sarun) would get better and Ginny would again be the girl he married instead of a meddling woman who has brought trouble on an innocent family. Ginny claims her life is better and more in control now that she has put “Christ on the throne” of her life, but Everett thinks Ginny has now put her father’s farm on the throne and everything is in disorder. He wants to tell the entire story of Ginny’s father, the man people called Rex the Farmer King, and he is going to put truth on the throne.
Rex’s barn used to hold fifteen thousand bales of hay. Everett used to load the barn himself, an exhausting task. He used to stand in the barn and look down with satisfaction on the cows below him. Cows do not prepare for winter like humans do, but they are smart enough to escape through the smallest holes in the fence. Rex was always smarter, though; he knew where the escaped cows went. He had the gift of seeing. Rex’s father had the same gift. Perhaps Rex’s sons did, too; however, they moved to the city and no one knew them. Rex’s daughter, Ginny, was the only one who left the farm and came back. No one would have expected it.
Everett was “not a city boy” but a “country boy who was a true handyman." He and his father could fix anything, but mostly they worked on electricity. His father was an immigrant from Hungary who was not too proud to do any work that would keep his family from going hungry. “Ginny was the first kind of hungry Everett ever knew.”
Rex was the Farmer King because, despite the troubles all farmers faced, he was able to keep his land because he had the gift of seeing. He often acted as real estate agent when farmers were forced to sell. In high school, Ginny was her father’s darling; while she was not “uppity,” she was certainly spoiled and powerful. When she chose him, Everett was amazed, for he thought she was “wondrous.” They got married after graduation and Everett was drafted right away. He got hurt in Vietnam, but eventually he was well again and the couple moved to a small town a little further south.
They were broke, but over time he made their furniture and she made everything pretty. Everett worked in construction for rich people and hated it. Ginny went to college to become a teacher but got fired and never taught again. Ginny could not get...
(The entire section is 509 words.)
Everett: What Went Wrong, Now (Pages 285-296)
By the time Everett and Ginny return home, they have decided to move back to Riverlake and help Rex with the farm. It has been in their family for over a hundred years and all of Ginny’s family is buried there. They do not tell Rex they are coming, but he was tearfully grateful. Things are difficult, but the three of them begin to make progress on the farm. Ginny and Everett are glad to be on the farm, and Rex is relaxing a bit, as he should be able to do.
But Ginny has been making her way through her father’s accounts and realizes Rex and the farm are in financial trouble. Everett knows that Rex knows it, too, and he hates the thought of having to sell any of his land, especially if his nearest neighbors buy it. Next to the farm, to the north, is a commune. Rex calls them a bunch of hippies, but one of the women who lives there is Belle Tollman, a high school classmate.
Selling off ten acres will only be a temporary fix, so they decide Ginny should try to look for another teaching job. In the meantime, their lawn mower breaks and they have no money to buy one. Everett asks Belle’s husband, Paxton, if he can borrow the commune’s mower; Everett discovers theirs is not working, either. Everett decides to buy a mower and Paxton agrees to rent it. Surprisingly, Rex likes the idea and has an old friend who sells farm equipment.
Giles has always liked Rex because he is “King of the Deals,” making money in nearly every transaction in the area—including Giles’s divorce. He tells Everett to get a loan from the bank but have the commune make the payments as its rent. Ginny has to ask Belle for the down payment and Belle agrees; however, Paxton discovers the plan (after talking to Giles, who was eager to earn commission on two movers) and the commune members scrounge a down payment and purchase their own mower. Ginny and Everett know nothing about the commune’s change of plans until they are stuck with a mower they cannot afford.
Rex is weak and is waiting for heart bypass surgery. His sons come and are appalled at the farm’s condition. Ginny is furious at them, but selling the farm seems imminent. Everett suggests he, Ginny, and Rex can move to town and they put the farm up for sale. Rex is so dejected he stays in bed. Belle tries to apologize, but Ginny refuses to acknowledge her.
One night Rex wakes from a nightmare and falls down the steep farmhouse stairs; Ginny and Everett...
(The entire section is 496 words.)
Everett: What Went Wrong, Now (Pages 297-308)
By the time Everett and Ginny return home, they have decided to move back to Riverlake and help Rex with the farm. It has been in their family for over a hundred years and all of Ginny’s family is buried there. They do not tell Rex they are coming, but he was tearfully grateful. Things are difficult, but the three of them begin to make progress on the farm. Ginny and Everett are glad to be on the farm, and Rex begins to relax a bit, as he should be able to do.
But Ginny has been making her way through her father’s accounts and realizes Rex and the farm are in dire financial trouble. Everett knows that Rex knows it too, and he hates the thought of having to sell any of his land, especially if his nearest neighbors buy it. Next to the farm, to the north, is a commune. Rex calls them a bunch of hippies, but one of the women who lives there is Belle Tollman, a high school classmate.
Selling off ten acres will only be a temporary fix, so they decide Ginny should try to look for another teaching job. In the meantime, their lawn mower breaks and they have no money to buy one. Everett asks Belle’s husband, Paxton, if he can borrow the commune’s mower; unfortunately, Everett discovers that theirs is not working either. Everett decides to buy a new mower and Paxton agrees to rent it. Surprisingly, Rex likes the idea and knows an old friend who sells farm equipment.
Giles has always liked Rex because he is the “King of the Deals,” making money in nearly every transaction in the area—including Giles’s divorce. He tells Everett to get a loan from the bank but have the commune make the payments as its rent. Ginny has to ask Belle for the down payment and Belle agrees; however, Paxton discovers the plan (after talking to Giles, who was eager to earn commission on two movers) and the commune members scrounge a down payment and purchase their own mower. Ginny and Everett know nothing about the commune’s change of plans until they are stuck with a mower they cannot afford.
Rex is weak and is waiting for heart bypass surgery. His sons arrive and are appalled at the farm’s paltry condition. Ginny is furious at them, but selling the farm seems unavoidable now. Everett suggests that he, Ginny, and Rex can move to town and they decide to put the farm up for sale. Rex is so dejected, he stays in bed. Belle tries to apologize, but Ginny refuses to acknowledge her.
One night Rex wakes from a...
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Hattie III: The Pride of Riverlake (Pages 311-323)
Hattie continues to get e-mails from her family, accusing her of forgetting their pain and desperation. Perhaps that is true, but Hattie has also experienced despair. She thinks of the World Trade Center being destroyed, Sarun lying in a hospital bed, and Chhung wanting to kill himself. He smokes, drinks, and sits silently; his silence is just as terrifying as his yelling once was.
Mum wonders where she can take her family where there are no gangs or churches, and Hattie does not know what to say. Mum prays all the time now and has chopped off her hair; she is as disengaged from the family as Chhung. Sophy takes over her mother’s cleaning jobs, though Hattie offers to find someone else to do it. Hattie cooks Chinese food for the family and brings Annie (her dog) down to the trailer to amuse Gift while she babysits him.
While Hattie no longer teaches Mum to speak English, she is learning a little Khmer. Sophy is no longer attending school but the church is aware of her situation and has faith she will be able to return one day. More e-mails arrive and Hattie “reads and rereads them all.” They are full of worry and want, “the kind that affects a person’s posture.” Though she has not done so for years, Hattie now dreams at night about her parents and about Qufu’s ancient burial mounds.
Hattie is sitting at the Come ‘n’ Eat, and she finds herself crying because she does not know how to help the Chhungs change the direction of their lives. Bringing them food and other things is fine, but this family needs something more. Now she understands the e-mails from her family. They represent more than superstitious beliefs; they reveal true suffering.
Hattie e-mails her niece Tina in Hong Kong and agrees to move her parents’ remains from Iowa to China, but not because she believes in any “superstitious nonsense.” She is simply concerned about the family’s distress, and if this will help she is willing to do it. Immediately Tina responds and says she has already found a “bone picker” who will meet Hattie in Iowa. The two women exchange more e-mails and discuss the difference between superstition and tradition. Tina confides that everyone in China lives in a constant state of worry and assumes no one in America ever worries; Hattie assures her niece that Americans worry about many things. Nevertheless, if moving her parents’ remains offers her family hope, she will agree to do it....
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Hattie III: The Pride of Riverlake (Pages 324-337)
After reading her grandfather’s letter, Hattie wonders if he would forgive her for returning her mother’s body to China. As she flies over the flat, brown plains, Hattie wonders if she should have let her family know she is coming, but she did not know how to tell them her reason for coming. After she lands, Hattie tries to call her uncle and then her cousin, but no one answers.
An “athletic Asian man with porcupine hair” introduces himself to Hattie; his name is Lennie Dow and he is the bone picker, appropriately dressed all in black. He is young but comes from generations of bone pickers, people who “pick the bones out of any flesh that might be left” on interred bodies.
Hattie’s parents were cremated in China and brought here many years ago. Dow escorts Hattie to his car and she asks him to stop at a florist before going to the cemetery.
The cemetery is larger than Hattie remembers, but it has been kept nicely; a mall has been built nearby and the oldest graves now overlook a row of loading docks. Hattie has an armful of roses and walks in the aisles of her family’s graves, placing a single rose in front of each gravestone. Walking through centuries of her ancestors makes Hattie aware of the “vastness of death” and her own “ultimate dependence.” She ends her walking vigil at her parents’ graves.
Hattie is overwhelmed with sorrow at having missed her parents’ old age and about them having missed knowing Josh and Joe. When she is ready, Hattie nods at Dow, and he sets up a folding table and lays out a meal and some incense before beginning to dig. Dow digs and recovers two sealed urns, “sturdy white ceramic with blue markings” about two feet high, which means there are bones with the ashes. Hattie writes their names on each urn so she can tell them apart. Hattie leaves the grave markers intact and performs the ritual to show respect for the dead.
Dow packs the urns carefully into two backpacks and recommends cremating the bones so she will have no trouble getting through customs. Hattie takes the urns back to Riverlake.
Sarun finally comes home. His neck brace keeps him immobile, but he can watch television and play video games. Mum is worried that Sarun will be blamed for setting the worksite fire, but Sophy admits she set the fire as part of God’s plan to keep Sarun from “doing Satan’s work.” Sarun laughs derisively and wonders what...
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Hattie III: The Pride of Riverlake (Pages 338-350)
Sarun’s gang friends come to visit. The seven boys, although dressed and tattooed like gang members, are surprisingly shy and respectful. Hattie knows they are drug dealers and thieves who are unflinchingly violent when necessary; however, here they joke and talk with Sarun.
Sophy visits Hattie the next day and is impressed with the tricks Hattie has taught Annie, probably the last dog Hattie will ever train. Finally Sophy asks Hattie how to file a child abuse complaint against her father for nearly killing Sarun. Chhung wants to turn himself in, saying he is “an animal who should be in a cage.” Mum is afraid Chhung will kill himself, and even Sarun thinks it might make his father feel better. Sophy vows to kill herself if Chhung commits suicide.
Hattie shows Sophy her parents’ urns and makes sure Sophy understands that this is what death means. Although Sophy is not blameless in her families’ troubles and clearly made some bad choices, she is not responsible for everything. In fact, it would be selfish of Sophy to take all the blame when only part of it is hers. In the end, Chhung had a choice, and he chose to hurt Sarun.
Sophy regrets going to the church as it seems to be the root of her family’s trouble. Hattie explains that many people go to church and nothing bad happens, just as many people have kitchen knives but only a few of them ever threaten people with them. Sophy realizes this is a reaction rather than an action, which is wrong. Hattie suggests Sophy might be able to apologize to Everett.
Sarun eventually talks to Chhung, saying every positive thing he can think of and begging him to come inside, but Chhung will not even look at him. Sarun’s words and forgiveness only make Chhung feel worse, and Sarun is infuriated that Chhung is using Sarun’s words to hurt himself.
That night, Chhung even refuses to sleep inside; Sophy finds him curled up in the bottom of the pit after a cold night. Hattie suggests they quit bringing him cigarettes and alcohol, but both Sarun and Sophy think that would be cruel.
Now Chhung virtually lives in the pit. Greta and Grace bring him doughnuts, and Hattie has the idea to have them pose as representatives from the Department of Social Services and tell Chhung that a complaint has been filed against him. Chhung rasps one question, “When?” and thanks them. After that Chhung refuses food; eventually they tell him he...
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Hattie III: The Pride of Riverlake (Pages 351-362)
Hattie’s walking group, each with a homemade food offering, visit the Chhungs. As they stand in the driveway, “an enormous piece of machinery” makes its way down the driveway. It is Hatch driving an excavator. The bucket slams (unintentionally) to the ground twice before Hatch jumps down and tells Chhung he is there to help him excavate his ditch. It takes Chhung a few minutes to recover from the shock and surprise, but he has an exchange with Hatch which brings Chhung back to life. Everyone cheers.
“The whole town is giddy.” Chhung still needs help, and the people of Riverlake prepare to get Chhung into substance abuse and anger management classes. Though Riverlake has never had a mayor, there is talk of creating the position for Hatch. Sarun will begin plans once his neck brace comes off. Meanwhile, Sophy surreptitiously borrows a turkey roaster and starts again playing the guitar. There is joy in the Chhung household.
In the midst of the joy, Hattie is unprepared for Everett’s stubbornness. She and Hatch climb the platform up to Everett’s shack; though Everett greets them civilly, he is not in an affable mood. The room is smoky because the stove does not always ventilate properly and the window is not open. Hatch offers to pay for the damage caused by the fire, and Hatch and Hattie try to explain why Sophy thought she was doing God’s will by setting the fire. Everett grows obstinate when he realizes it is Ginny who owes him.
Hatch and Hattie explain that it would be difficult to place any legal blame on Ginny, as she was just “an influence” and did not actually do anything to cause the damage. Hatch and Hattie know they could have done more to prevent this situation, and Everett is unmoved by their explanations or their offer. He loved Ginny once, but now he “just wants her [to burn] to a crisp.” Everett says Hatch would never have been foolish enough to love one woman for his entire life, like Everett did. “It wasn’t such a great plan,” he thinks.
Hatch understands Everett’s frustration: though he has built a giant tower, he remains unseen; though he talks and talks, no one hears him. They come back the next day, with a satellite telephone and some hot food, but they discover the window is again closed and Everett is sitting slumped over in his only chair, dead from smoke inhalation.
At night, Hatch has trouble sleeping as he thinks of his younger...
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Hattie III: The Pride of Riverlake (Pages 363-375)
Everett gave his life to Ginny; Hatch gave his life to science. Everett knew Hatch could not love with abandon because he spent his life weighing and considering. Hatch and Hattie “were as good a match” as Everett and Ginny, but they wasted all those years.
Hatch finally asks Hattie why she left research. She tries to postpone the conversation, but Hatch is dissuaded. Hattie finally says she left because the laboratory was an arena, not a home. Though she loved the laboratory, it would never love her back, so she left. To Hatch, the laboratory is like a lake used for swimming, to be left behind when one is finished swimming. Hatch was also part of Hattie’s decision to leave.
Hatch wonders if teaching was something Hattie loved, a gift. Hattie assures him she found great joy and satisfaction in her career, and when she retired many of her students came to wish her well. She asks Hatch how many people, who did not feel obligated, came to his retirement party. Hatch does not answer. Hatch has always felt as if he were “adding a brick to an immortal edifice” with his research, as if he were building something grand and beautiful.
Though Hatch agrees that teaching is a noble profession, he believes the laboratory was something extraordinary. Hattie agrees, noting that his entire family treated the laboratory as a place of worship. Hatch talks reverently about the significance of the work he was doing. She left research and should have made a different choice, but she had a husband, child, and career. Hatch accuses her of retreating and never developing her “capacities,” something Hattie does not see as a life goal.
Hatch finally says what Hattie has always known: Hatch did not help advance her career because his father knew Hatch and Hattie loved one another and was afraid that love would destroy his son’s research career. Though Hatch’s father loved Hattie, he thought she would not understand the right things. Hatch’s fear of disappointing his father was stronger than his love for Hattie, even though he knew he “was going to flunk sooner or later.” Now, when he “has nothing to lose,” he has come to her. It is three decades too late, and Hattie is upset.
Ginny comes back to town for the funeral and to sell her house. Ginny cries outrageously at Everett’s casket before placing a “good-sized cross” in his hands. When Ginny looks to Hattie for...
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Hattie III: The Pride of Riverlake (Pages 376-386)
This is only the second community event the Chhungs have attended, but they seem to have always been part of things. Chhung “looks dazed,” as if he has “been reborn.” Hattie agrees and explains to her friends that Chhung has always believed he was reborn into his brother’s life.
Mum shares something she baked: baguettes stuffed with chocolate inside, made in the roaster Sophy borrowed. Everyone loves the treat, and Mum is encouraged to do more baking for the town.
Only Hattie knows that the Chhungs have been considering moving because Mum misses the temple and holidays and they all miss the people and the foods of their culture. And Sophy says she does not think she could ever get used to the cold weather. Sopheap knows of another Cambodian family that might move to Riverlake. Hattie is not happy to say it, but she reminds them that if too many families come, there is likely to be trouble. Sophy hopes that if the family does leave, Hattie will come with them.
Tina sends Hattie an e-mail: she wonders if something is wrong, since Hattie disinterred her parents’ urns quite a while ago. Tina hopes that Hattie has not changed her mind about bringing her parents’ remains to China. Hattie replies that she just has not taken the time to locate a crematorium. Tina quickly responds and says Hattie can just send the bones to China and she and the rest of the family will take care of things.
It is the Chinese tradition that the oldest male in the family should accompany any remains, but Hattie is the only member left of her generation. Tina is deferential and assures Hattie that, as the head of her family, no one will argue with whatever Hattie decides. If Hattie does not mind, Hattie can pay a monk Tina knows to accompany the remains to China. Hattie does mind, but she agrees to send the urns to the monk.
Hattie packages her parents’ urns; it had been nice to have them with her, but they would have wanted to help the family if they could. Hatch asks Hattie to forgive him for walking away from her so long ago; she sees pain in his eyes and forgives him. She understands why he made that choice, and he says she was “right to be mad.” Their love is “bittersweet and hard-won.”
Josh calls to say he and Serena broke up; she said he was too old, but it was probably because she had a miscarriage. He is heartbroken and says he will be coming home for Christmas....
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