Wounded Wisteria is the first book written by my cousin, Maithy Vu. It takes the form of a dialogue written in rhyming verse, almost like the script of a play–admittedly a style that is unusual these days. Why take a risk and read something like this? Because it is a new and refreshing book that I very much appreciate as a conscious, honest attempt at creating a literary construction.
What do I mean by literary construction? Wounded Wisteria is a multi-layered story, filled with symbols and images that are open for interpretation. Each reader might come away from it with a different understanding of what a particular character or symbol represents. In this so-called “rational” modern world, in which stories are often simply a straightforward narrative of events, Wounded Wisteria makes for an interesting change.
Wounded Wisteria occurs within a garden, but this is no pristine or idyllic place. This garden is a beautiful and whimsical locale, but it is a melancholy place tinged with hints of darkness and hurt. The characters who inhabit it are themselves mixed into the environment, for each of them represents or is made up of a different natural element.
The book is divided into two acts. The first act is presented from the perspective of Cleo. Representing the element of wood, she is a branch which has not yet produced any flowers. Whenever she encounters another character, she is affected by the element that character symbolizes. Part of the fun challenge of Wounded Wisteria is determining which elements the characters represent, so I won’t tell you everything.
I can give you a bit of help on one character, the Great Peet, who is always depicted lighting and blowing out matches. He, pretty obviously, symbolizes fire. Cleo, as a piece of wood, could easily be burned and destroyed by him, yet she is attracted to the possibility of a bright burst of light. At times, she finds comfort in him, yet he is a sinister and uncertain figure who presents a serious danger to her.
Other characters represent metal, wind, water, and earth. The symbolic exchange of elements drives Cleo’s story, as she struggles to find the right environment and balance of forces that will allow her to bloom.
But here’s what’s great about this book: it is a story about the power of shifting perspectives.
The second act occurs at the same time as the first, but is presented from Peet’s point-of-view, giving us a new perspective of the first act’s events. There are no elements in this part of the book, which means Peet does not view the world as an organized series of element interactions. Also, he does not call himself “the Great.” What this means is that he is not a dangerous, abstract force like Cleo believes. He is actually a sympathetic character who suffers from tragedy and comes to learn of the danger of his fire.
As a result, the characters of the story start to transcend the organized elemental categories in which they were initially presented. Are they just symbols, behaving according to what they are supposed to represent? Or are they characters with emotions and psychological motivations? The power of shifting perspectives reveals that the answer is both. They are simultaneously symbolic elements and actual characters, and the blurred line between these two areas is what allows each reader to determine for themselves what is happening.
That is what I mean by “literary construction.” Wounded Wisteria is a purposeful attempt to create a network of symbols and images which can be interpreted in different ways by different readers. That is something which is rare these days.
Yet many of these ideas came to be in an organic fashion. When I spoke with my cousin, she said that the characters evolved in such a way that they naturally fell into their various elemental roles. Nor was the overall idea of elements entirely deliberate. She told me that readers of her first draft praised her use of elements to represent characters, even though she hadn’t actually thought about it in that way. But it made such organic sense that she ended up pursuing that direction.
So, I would recommend that you go pick up a copy. A bit of a risk, perhaps, and a bit of an unusual choice. But if you’re looking for something new and different, something that requires thinking to interpret and understand, or something that carries multiple layers of meaning within it, Wounded Wisteria is definitely all of those things. Please check it out on Amazon and be sure to visit my cousin’s website, http://www.maithyvu.com.
Last week, I attended a book launch event for Wounded Wisteria. Publishing a book is absolutely a huge achievement, and I was very glad to be there to support Maithy. I look forward to her next book!