The Lost Garden is an autobiography by Laurence Yep. An autobiography is a narrative about someone’s own life. So the main characters in this book are the real people in Yep’s life. For instance, Laurence himself is a main character. He writes about what it was like to grow up as a third-generation Chinese American and how he struggled to find a place where he fit in. He felt torn between his Chinese identity and his American one but eventually comes to terms with his multilayered identity and celebrate his heritage.
Another significant main character is Laurence’s maternal grandmother, Marie Lee. She is a calm, compassionate woman who never scolded Laurence for participating in American customs like wearing his hair long. To Laurence, Marie Lee embodies his Chinese heritage or, as he says, his “Chineseness—that foreign, unassimilable, independent core.” For many years his grandmother’s presence reminds him that he is distanced from his Chinese roots and that he is an outsider in Chinese culture. But she also teaches him valuable lessons about his background.
Laurence’s father, Tom, is also an important character in the book. He came to the United States at ten years old and had a difficult time adjusting to life in his new country. He then became a grocer and a compassionate father. Laurence recalls several things his father built for him, like a sandbox that “was the closest thing to flying.” Laurence also explains how his father nurtured a garden and goes on to use seeds as a symbol throughout the book. Laurence’s mother and his brother Spike are also important characters in this story.
As Laurence looks back on his childhood memories and the people who were involved in raising him, he appreciates how they each played a role in who he became. He says:
Memories are like seeds. They lie concealed within the imagination —or perhaps they lie even deeper, ripening with the quickening of the heart and growing according to the soul’s own season. Planted in childhood, they sometimes do not bear fruit until long into adulthood.