Biographies & Memoirs

Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops

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A self-deprecating memoir, beautifully depicting the intricacies of Chinese culture and the timeless search for where one truly belongs.

Synopsis

A Taiwanese girl, ALLISON, disagrees with her Chinese culture that conditions women and girls to silently wait for men to tell them what to do.

Unlike other typical Buddhist girls, at fifteen, Allison disobeys her father and joins the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At twenty-one, she drops out of college to serve a mission, for which her father disowns her. After her mission, she elopes with her Chinese-speaking American boyfriend, CAMERON. They get married in Texas.

Sixteen months into the marriage, one day Allison returns home to their apartment, only to discover that in her two-hour absence, Cameron has moved out all their possessions, closed their bank account, and filed for divorce. She must learn to speak for herself, in English, to survive being abandoned in a foreign land.

Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops is the inspiring and galvanizing story of a young woman’s journey from a powerless immigrant bride to a confident woman in command of her own destiny. This book is for anyone who has struggled with gender inequality, racism, and immigrant injustice. Ultimately, it’s about a strong woman of color determined to create her own path.

The memoir starts at a point of abandonment; the author returns home to find the flat she shares with her Texan husband of sixteen months inexplicably empty and the light switches not working.  A Taiwanese immigrant with little spoken English and her bank account drained, Allison then has to negotiate her way through coping in an unfamiliar country, alone.  Our attention sufficiently peaked, the narrative then swiftly shifts back to her troubled childhood in Taiwan and the reader is shown how events have unfolded to lead to this moment.


The author takes on the roles of both the likeable flawed-heroine and omnipotent narrator in her own story.  Often, when the reader may feel themselves agreeing with her actions as she rises up against an oppressor or pushes back when emotionally prodded, an authorial voice will tell us that she was at this time “selfish” or “thinking only of herself.”  It becomes clear that the future-Allison that is recounting the tale is a forgiving and generous person.


Ninety Nine Fire Hoops follows in the tradition of memoirs such as Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes in providing a gritty, raw, and at times, profoundly shocking account of a troubled childhood in a distressing home situation.  Frequently it becomes difficult to read of the cycles of abandonment that occur throughout Allison’s life and yet, there are such glimmers of kindness, that are given without asking for anything in return, that our faith in the human spirit never quite leaves us as we read her story.


Allison takes bold leaps of faith (both in the practical and spiritual sense of the term) that will leave the reader inspired.  At times she follows her heart, at other decision points her profound Christian faith guides her.  It becomes clear that only when the two align, will she truly find happiness.


I highly recommend this book as a fascinating insight into the life of a newly arrived immigrant in the United States, the freedom that comes with breaking societal expectations and as a testament of how faith, compassion and a determination to succeed can see us through even the hardest of times.

Reviewed by

I’m a professional librarian, writer, artist and photographer www.tinypotager.com

Synopsis

A Taiwanese girl, ALLISON, disagrees with her Chinese culture that conditions women and girls to silently wait for men to tell them what to do.

Unlike other typical Buddhist girls, at fifteen, Allison disobeys her father and joins the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At twenty-one, she drops out of college to serve a mission, for which her father disowns her. After her mission, she elopes with her Chinese-speaking American boyfriend, CAMERON. They get married in Texas.

Sixteen months into the marriage, one day Allison returns home to their apartment, only to discover that in her two-hour absence, Cameron has moved out all their possessions, closed their bank account, and filed for divorce. She must learn to speak for herself, in English, to survive being abandoned in a foreign land.

Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops is the inspiring and galvanizing story of a young woman’s journey from a powerless immigrant bride to a confident woman in command of her own destiny. This book is for anyone who has struggled with gender inequality, racism, and immigrant injustice. Ultimately, it’s about a strong woman of color determined to create her own path.

Starter Wife

Edinburg, Texas. November 1996



        I learned that I became a starter wife from a light switch.


        Not a light bulb, like I had a big idea. A light switch. A light switch in my apartment that I flipped on and off but the living room remained dark, and that darkness caused a pricking, tingling sensation in my hands and feet.


        When I left the apartment two hours earlier, the lights worked, the heater ran, and Cameron––my husband of sixteen months––was doing homework on our bed. Lately we kept fighting about investing in the boat his father planned to purchase. I said no, and we had been giving each other the cold shoulder for days. Tired of our never-ending arguments, now I wanted reconciliation. This particular day, around dinnertime, I went to seek marriage advice from my classmate, a fellow Taiwanese student. Before leaving, I stood before Cameron and said good-bye. If he heard me, he acted otherwise. So I wrote I love you, Cam. on a post-it note and left it on the inside of the front door. It wasn’t here now.


        Now I had to feel my way to the bedroom.


        Felt the bed.


        Felt one pillow. 


        Felt a chill.


        I didn’t need to keep feeling anymore. Didn’t need to avoid bumping into the desk, or the chairs, or Cameron’s bike. They weren’t in the dark with me.


        In the dark, there was no warmth.


        No gas for the heater.


        No electricity.


        No telephone.


        No food.


        My heartbeat quickened and thundered in my ears.


        What happened? Am I in the wrong apartment? Must be. All the units look the same on the outside . . .


        I felt my way out of the apartment and double checked the gold number nailed to the door: 21. My apartment, no mistake.


        NO!––no, no, no, no, no! Where’s Cameron?


        I tucked my hands under my armpits in the November evening chills. My legs trembled as I paced in a circle in small steps. The windows of other units in the building glowed in golden light. Through my next-door neighbors’ blinds, I noticed them sitting around the coffee table, Seinfeld playing on TV, the waft of their gumbo dinner in the air. It looked warm and inviting where they were. I stood in the dark, cold night, staring past my door into the abyss. For tonight’s dinner I’d planned to make chicken stir-fry. Cameron would’ve enjoyed it on the couch right there, over there, there, there, there, where it was nothing but emptiness now.


        The black of the apartment reminded me of a summer night, three months earlier, when the power had gone out in the entire complex. That night Cameron drove back to his parents’ home, in the next town, for an air-conditioned room. I didn’t go with him because I would’ve rather eaten dog food than see my in-laws. To say they were bad people is telling only half the truth. A big part of the problem is me––I avoided them to avoid speaking English.


        I was born and raised in Taiwan and was only confident speaking Mandarin Chinese. On this fateful night, I was a fresh-off-the-boat immigrant––having been in the U.S. for only sixteen months––and heavily dependent on Cameron’s Chinese-speaking prowess for almost everything. For example, underwear shopping: he had to tag along to tell the lingerie store clerk I wished to get my size measured in the metric system. America’s customary system didn’t mean anything to me. Another time, I accidentally cut my finger with a rusty utility knife while opening a package. Cameron had to explain to the emergency room nurse why I needed a tetanus shot. For me to carry on English conversations wasn’t just a linguistic challenge or an intellectual evaluation, it was an insurmountable task. 


        Of course, avoiding my in-laws couldn’t possibly be healthy for my marriage. But there were other contributing factors to my shaky relationship with Cameron too. To say it was all my doing is giving me more credit than I deserve. After all, there are always two people in a relationship, one simply can’t start a marital war alone. However, I’ll say, my short marriage to Cameron helped shorten the emotional distance between him and his father.


        Glad to have helped!

About the author

Allison Hong Merrill was born and raised in Taiwan and immigrated to the U.S. at twenty-two as a university student. Her work has won both national and international writing awards. Visit her at allisonhongmerrill.com, where you can sign up for her monthly newsletter. view profile

Published on September 21, 2021

Published by She Writes Press

80000 words

Genre: Biographies & Memoirs

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