When We Desire But Are Unable to Receive | Review of “Home Sickness” by Chih-Ying Lay – Translated by Darryl Sterk (2020) Linda Leith Publishing

Image linked from the publisher’s website

We all have a strong desire for comfort and beauty. Yet, in spite of our paths in life, the objects of comfort and beauty may not be achievable for us. Hence come our feelings of: loneliness, anger, heartache and confusion. These are complex and embarrassing emotions for us to deal with, but they are part of the human condition. And they are lyrically and poignantly explore in Chih-Ying Lay’s collection of short stories called Home Sickness.

Page 7 – Red Dragonfly

I cut into your arm. Your skin is crisp as paper, but still blotchy. The dark brown birthmark on your wrist is impossible to miss. How could I not recognize you?

I follow the brachial vein towards your wrist, where the tissue – a network of vessels and nerves – gets more and move convoluted. I remember you used to complain that you hand was short a few tendons, or shy else did you play the piano so clumsily for Sensei Lü?

Most of these stories are set in Taiwan but there a universal understanding to many of the situations that the author sets his protagonists’ into. Fear, heartache, loneliness, confusion, naivete, etc, broken apart by a few moments of joy and enlightenment make these stories a joy to read. And the prose is so lyrical and smooth that – even in translation – the book is smooth and pleasurable to engage with.

Pages 52-53 – Macaque Peach

On the way to the Rattan Branch Scenic Area, the discomfort in my left pec becomes unbearable. Thank God Jay is driving. I reach with my hand to try to find the source of my pain. I find the painful spot, but it is superficial, and localized. Massaging it in a circular motion causes the pain to go away. I am both relieved and worried. Relieved because there is probably nothing wrong with my heart, and I will at least be able to go hiking. But also worried because this does not bode well. Maybe the mosquito bite I scratched has gotten infected. It’s not like I have a real breast, so I don’t have to worry about every providing milk like a woman to her child, but what if my pec get infected or decays and has to be removed? Will I ever be able to swim again?

This trip is a celebration of the end of our lives as students. I managed somehow to survive the battle and finish graduate school, and Jay has graduated from medical school. At the end of July, he’ll go into reserve officer training. I had better luck. I just have to do twenty days in August and then I’ll be demobilized I am, after all practically blind. He is so jealous.

“Have you forgotten that time we went snorkelling on Orchid Island?” I asked. “You got to see the coral reef. All it did for me was bring me grief, because I had to get so close to see it that I crashed into it. You got to see a clown fish. I just got water up my nose.

Every time he complains I’ve got it better than him, I cite some inconvenient examples to make him shut up.

Each one of these stories has a deep and emotional connection to the universal human condition to them. They are not stories to be rushed through and forgotten about. They provide a bit of enlightenment and guidance to the careful reader. And may even provide a bit of comfort to a lonely individual who seeks to understand their situation better.

Page 111 – The Graduate

“Don’t try to find me, please. I don’t want to see you. HWL.” He would never read these words, or any of the letters you sent.

He wasn’t dead. But unbeknownst to you, he went back to America much later than you anticipated. You were in conflict over whether to send him the wedding invitation but sent it anyway. You kept practising the part of the girl in The Graduate. If at the last minute he’d burst into the church, you would have thrown yourself into his arms, no hesitation. Even if you had to crawl, dragging the veil behind you, you would have done it.

But it didn’t happen that way. You passed the time among friends and family. Your parents and Dr. Yang’s flew in from Taiwan. His parents didn’t understand their son’s decision, but all his brothers had gotten married and started careers, so they didn’t mind. Your mother expressed her gratitude to Dr. Yang with tears in her eyes, thanked him for repaying your tuition. She said she’d tie up loose ends in Taiwan and come to America to care for you. Come she did, not knowing you would send her off. She didn’t know what winter was. She went out in a shirt and pants after dark to shovel the front walk and hit her head when she fell into a snowbank.


Chih-Ying Lay has given us readers a brilliant collection of literature with his work Home Sickness . The stories are unique and emotional and certainly are enlightening. Definitely a collection worthy of reading and reading most carefully.

*****

Link to Linda Leith Publishing’s website for Home Sickness

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