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April 24, 2009

Book Notes - Mei-Ling Hopgood ("Lucky Girl")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published books.

Mei-Ling Hopgood's Lucky Girl tells the story of her life in an adopted American family as well as her eventual reunion with her Taiwanese birth family. Her reporter's eye for detail serves her well in her memoir. This honest tale of adoption, assimilation, and reunion is filled with humor and genuine emotion without ever lapsing into sentimentality.

In her own words, here is Mei-Ling Hopgood's Book Notes essay for her memoir, Lucky Girl:

Lucky Girl is about my reunion with the family in Taiwan that gave me up for adoption as a baby and the untangling of the unlikely strands that formed my destiny as a Midwestern girl. My quest to get to know my biological family quickly turned into both a tragic and hilarious soap opera I couldn't have scripted, with a cast of characters that include a father hell-bent on having a son; a mother torn by his will; six Taiwanese sisters enduring the psychological scars that could have been mine; a sister raised by a family in Switzerland and the tragic boy adopted as an attempt to create a male heir. My birth father's desire for the child that none of us could become drove us to different corners of the globe and set our courses for wildly varied adventures. Reunified, we are a roadmap of the ironies of fate, of love and loss and unintended consequences.

I hadn’t thought about my story as it relates to music until I sat down to write compile this list, but now as the memories play in my head, I realize every scene had a score or song in the backdrop, from embarrassing karaoke songs that I was forced to sing, the booming hip hop blasting in the Taipei night market or the chirpy, traditional Chinese instrumental that my birth father played in his tape deck the first time I visited Taitung, the town where I was born. The play list I've created is a mix of songs that directly appear in the book, come from the many places where my family lives or that convey a little bit of me.

Minha Vida, by Rita Lee

This is one of the best covers of one of my favorite Beatle songs, My Life, beautifully done Bossa style by singer Rita Lee, known as the Queen and the Grandmother of Rock in Brazil. We've been living in South America for the last few years, and this is an artist I've come to love.

Half a World Away, REM

Melancholy and yet hopeful, the music and some of the lyrics in this song also get to the heart of my story.

This could be the saddest dusk
I've ever seen
Turn to a miracle

Eight Mile, by Eminem

Eminem and I grew up in opposite sides of metro Detroit – him north of Eight Mile Road and me in an area called Downriver – but we came from similar communities that were often stereotyped as white trash by our snobby neighbors. I'm a hip-hop fan, and while he may tick people off, Eminem has incredible talent and loves Motown. I think it's great that he dedicated a new clip during the NCAA finals this year, "A Love Letter to Detroit," in which he says: "We can never turn our backs on you Detroit, because we are you."

Good Enough by Sarah McLachlan

Sarah McLachlan's voice and songwriting have always tugged at my heartstrings. This particular song conveys a message that my birth sisters have tried multiple times to get through to my birth mom, in terms of the way our father neglected her. Yet forever the traditional Chinese woman, she never heeded their advice – and likely never will out of duty to the role in which she has trapped herself.

Don't tell me why he hasn't been good to you
Don't tell me why he hasn't been there for you
I'll show you why there's so much more than good enough

Because You Loved Me, by Celine Dion

I cry every time I hear this song, however cheesy it might be. It is my anthem to my adopted parents, especially my American dad. I dedicated this song to him at our wedding. The song's meant so much more to me after I met my biological parents and after my dad died.

For all those times you stood by me
For all the truth that you made me see
For all the joy you brought to my life
For all the wrong that you made right
For every dream you made come true
For all the love I found in you

I'm everything I am
Because you loved me

Jiemei ("Sisters") by A-mei

The pride and joy of the island, Mandarin pop diva, A-Mei, was one of nine siblings born in Eastern Taiwan. This annoyingly perky song sounds like one that little girls in pigtails would chant while walking home from school in Taipei, but it had particular significance to me at the time I met my birth family because of the chorus.

Ni shi wo de jiemei, ni shi wo de baby (pronounced bay-bay)
You are my sister, you are my baby.

My Man is a Mean Man, by Stefanie Heinzmann

I admit never having heard of Stefanie before, but my Swiss sister recommends this funk and pop singer who won a popular German singing competition in 2007. The Swiss just loved that Heinzmann, from a southern village called Eyholz, beat out the German competitors. Her debut album from Universal came out in March of 2008. Other recs from my Swiss sis, popular artists Xavier Naidoo and Herbert Grönemeyer.

Like A Virgin, by Madonna

Madonna was hot when I was a teenager in metro Detroit (which is also Madonna's home region), and this was a song my friends and I liked to sing, loudly, feeling rebellious and sexy. In 1997 during my first visit to Taiwan, to my absolute mortification, my Chinese sisters picked this song for the nun who arranged my adoption and I to sing together at a karaoke bar. Luckily, Sister Maureen took it all in stride, and sang along without batting an eye.

Big Brown Eyes and the entire Too Far to Care album by Old 97's

The Old 97's are one of my favorite bands; my mood lifts just hearing their music. I listen to them just to get myself psyched up to write sometimes. And while Big Brown Eyes is about a guy who can't get over a girl, the general free-spirited riff reminds me of that first reunion with my birth sisters.

You made a big impression for a girl of your size
And now I can't get by without you and your big brown eyes.

The Long Way Home, Norah Jones version

I love Norah Jone's version of this song, smooth, sweet and free. After all is said and done, I feel like I've spent a lot of my journey just getting back to my real home.

My Little Corner of the World by Yo La Tengo

After traveling far and wide in search of answers, I had my own baby girl, Sofia. She became the best legacy I could think of, the most important place I can be right now.

Mei-Ling Hopgood and Lucky Girl links:

the author's website
Facebook group for the author
video trailer for the book

Library Journal review
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel review
St. Louis Post-Dispatch review

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
Antiheroines (interviews with comics artists)
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks


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