The Road to Wanting by Wendy Law-Yone

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The Road to Wanting by Wendy Law-Yone

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: Na Ga finds herself in Wanting, on the China / Burma border where her former American boyfriend has arranged for her to cross the border to her native Burma. Exposing aspects of Southeast Asia that are not normally seen by Westerners, encompassing rural Burma, Rangoon, northern China, the brothels of northern Thailand and Bangkok, the book relates her difficult life and is ultimately about acceptance and forgiveness. It's beautiful, sad and uplifting all at the same time.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: April 2010
Publisher: Chatto & Windus
ISBN: 978-0701184087

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We first meet Na Ga in her hotel room in Wanting, on the Chinese side of the border with Na Ga's native Burma (or Myanmar for the more geographically pedantic, although Burma is used throughout this book). She is attempting to commit suicide, but is interrupted by news from the hotel receptionist who tells her that her guide across the border, Mr Jiang, has just committed suicide himself. You might by now have the impression that this is not a cheery kind of book, and you'd be right up to a point, although it's certainly not without its light touches. In fact it's often quite beautiful, which makes the exposure of the seedier side so much more shocking.

Na Ga is in Wanting because her American lover has left her to return to the US, but he has arranged for her to be accompanied back 'home'. But Na Ga doesn't want to go home - wherever that might be. And this is typical of her life. She doesn't like choice and her life tends to be determined by others' wishes and actions. And what a life it has been. Law-Yone writes vividly about village life in Burma, an ex-pat life in Rangoon, as well as stints in a Thai brothel and the hedonism of Bangkok with her American lover, as Na Ga recalls what has happened to her since she was sold from her home village.

Born in Mandalay, raised in Rangoon, a US citizen now living in the UK, Burmese writer Wendy Law-Yone is the author of the critically acclaimed novels, The Coffin Tree and Irrawaddy Tango. Her themes tend to be about displacement, cultural issues of colonialism, migration, and political upheaval. Law-Yone's fiction sheds light not only on the Southeast Asian experience, but on issues of immigration and acculturation, often casting light on the darker side of the stories. The Road to Wanting is in much the same vein as her two previous novels and, I would suggest, deserves to receive similar critical praise.

We know from the cover blurb that at some point poor Na Ga, who is a charmingly written character, will end up in the seedier side of Thailand, but such is the naive charm and beauty of her character told in flashback, that I cannot ever remember being more affected by the brutality and cruelty of the sex slave industry. Of course, we all know it's wrong, but when you have become engrossed in the character of such a sweet person as Na Ga for a hundred or so pages, the shock is palpable. And a word of warning, there are some fairly explicit passages.

Although relatively short, The Road to Wanting is one of those books that you look back on and wonder how so much has happened in such a few pages. I think the last book that made me want to reach into its pages and rescue the main character to quite this extent was Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Although Na Ga might be too passive for some, it's her ability to forgive that is so powerful. She's a character that will stay with me for a long time.

Does she decide to get out of Wanting and cross the border in the end? Well, you'll just have to read it to find out.

Very many thanks to the good people of Chatto & Windus for giving The Bookbag the opportunity to review this terrific book.

For more stunning writing from American-Asian novelists, then why not check out Peony in Love by Lisa See, or the wonderfully strange Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen: A Manifesto in 41 Tales by Marilyn Chin.

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Buy The Road to Wanting by Wendy Law-Yone at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Road to Wanting by Wendy Law-Yone at

Booklists.jpg The Road to Wanting by Wendy Law-Yone is in the Orange Prize 2011.


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