Historical fiction in a time of war and change in Dutch Indonesia – Lian Gouw’s ‘Only a Girl’

All Things Books / Review

About Only a Girl,
Written by Jean Bartlett, and was originally published in The Mercury News,
Jul 31, 2012

Born in Jakarta, Indonesia, then a Dutch colony known as the Netherlands’ East Indies, Lian Gouw began writing in 1991 and has never stopped. Her short stories and poems have appeared in several literary magazines. An earlier version of the first chapter of “Only a Girl” appeared in the 2006 anthology of the San Francisco Writers Conference, “Building Bridges from Writers to Readers.” That version was called “Her Predicament.” On Saturday, August 4, Ms. Gouw will be at Florey’s Books from 2 to 4 p.m. to discuss and sign copies of “Only a Girl.” “I was born and raised in Indonesia,” Gouw said, noting that this is also the setting of her novel. “I am Chinese and as far as I know, I do not have Indonesian blood. However, my roots sprouted in Indonesian soil and it is that soil, I now understand, that is under my fingernails and between my toes. But none of the characters in “Only a Girl,” represent someone specific I have known or myself. The work being ‘historical’ fiction, the mention of historical events and figures relates to truth.” “Only a Girl,” tells the story of three generations of Chinese women struggling for identity against a political back drop of the World Depression, World War II, and the Indonesian Revolution. Nanna, the matriarch of the family, strives to preserve the family’s traditional Chinese values while her children are eager to assimilate into Dutch cultural society. The unique ways in which the women in “Only a Girl” face their own challenges, reveals the complex tale of Chinese society in Indonesia between 1930 and 1952.

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