10 Topics from The Scavenger’s Daughters {Book Club}

Happy middle of July to you!

Today we’re diving into Chapters 9 to 17 of The Scavenger’s Daughters (Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters) by Kay Bratt. Since it is Top 10 week I thought I would share 10 topics that were touched on in this section.

Oh, and this is in no particular order, so while all of these thoughts come from the nine chapters, they are presented in the order I wrote them down, not that I read :).

1.  Class—Class distinctions were woven into several places in this section. I mentioned last week I was a bit leery of Jet Li; my feelings stem primarily from this area (which also makes me feel a bit uncomfortable to admit). In this section, Linnea’s family welcomed Jet Li to their Spring Festival celebration, but his family will not yet meet her. And when Benfu found out that Jet Li’s father was a government official? Game over. Also seen in Benfu’s background and his parents’ reaction to Calli and in Benfu’s friendship with Lao Gong.

2. Health—Ugh! We all knew something was up with Benfu’s health and so the TB diagnosis was no surprise. I am saddened and frustrated that people like Benfu need to go to doctors like Dr. Yu. I know that Dr. Yu was better than not being treated. This only assuages me a little. And of course, access to health care is related to class the world over.

3. Retirement/Pension—Watching how much Benfu and Calli love their daughters is moving. In this section we learned that Benfu could have returned to a life of luxury after the Cultural Revolution if he had been willing to give up the wife (Calli) for one that his parents would accept. But since he wouldn’t and given that he and Calli had raised 24 abandoned girls, they chose caring for the girls over any cushion for retirement. Watching Benfu go to the dump and work so hard because they have no retirement fund is moving and stressful.

4. Providing—It can be a weird power dynamic when a child (in this case Linnea) is able to provide for a family’s need because the parent(s) can’t. It was heart wrenching to watch Benfu go to the welfare office and basically beg so that he could provide a Spring Festival feast and presents . . . and then fail. And to add to the complexities, Linnea provided the feast and her boyfriend provided the gifts and envelopes of money. Kind and thoughtful, yes! But themes of providing are seen again and again in this section.

5. Respect (Manners)—I noticed this most strongly when Jet Li came to the Zheng family home. Both Benfu and Calli were pleased with his “traditional respect.” Linnea also showed the importance of respect by not lying to Benfu when he asked where she was going. Even though she didn’t want to break up with Jet Li, out of respect for Benfu, she did.

6. Meaningful—I love how much Benfu and Calli try to find meaningful ways for the girls to participate in the family. Here I’m thinking of Maggi who can’t use her legs. She irons newspapers, removes labels from bottles, and now is learning to knit. This point also ties into the next one . . .

7. Individual—Understanding how the twins Ivy and Lily will come to a point that they need to find different paths because of Lily’s blindness, Benfu gave his violin to Lily. While any of the girls could learn to play, Benfu saw how the violin would mean more to Lily than any of them. I also see this theme when Benfu met with Lao Gong to get more information about Jet Li’s family, wondering if he might be wrong about Jet Li.

8. The Past—That feeling of “Oh now I get it!” as the story unfolds is seen so often as we learn more about the past. Understanding Benfu’s family of origin, their home, his violin training, it is all the more acute what he lost in the Cultural Revolution. And then to learn that his parents wouldn’t accept Calli and even stole their daughter (Dahlia), in large part because she was a daughter. And then to add more tragedy on top of it, that Calli was sterilized against her knowledge?! When Benfu gave the violin to Lily and the girls begged him to play, I understood why he couldn’t. That he could pass on the violin and share that part of him, yet understood that opening the door himself would cost him too much.

9. Love—Yet, for all of the heartache and unfairness that comes with the Zheng family being the working poor, the primary sense I get as I read about this family is love. The love that Benfu and Calli have for each other, the love they have for the girls, the love the girls have for their sisters and Benfu and Calli. The way the serve, support, and sacrifice for each other IS love in action.

10. Relationships—While woven throughout, I saw it most clearly when Lao Gong said, “I spent my life catering to officials higher up than me and ignoring my family. They lived life without me being a part of it. Now here I sit with a damn bird for company. My only son has moved on and barely makes time for me and his mother. But you—you’ve done something remarkable Benfu. You really have. Instead of spending your life begin bitter about the loss you suffered so many years ago, you’ve worked to build a legacy of love with this daughters of yours.”

I’m curious what will happen in the final third of the book. Pretty sure Linnea and Jet will get back together. But will Benfu die? Will Linnea try and track down Dahlia? All this and more will be answered soon.

What stood out to you as you read? See you in the comments!

Amy

P.S. I’m on vacation this week and will be replying from my phone, so if replies are short, it’s not that your comment isn’t “good,” it is that I’m lazy! But I DO love to hear what you think, so please comment.

July 11—Chapters 1-8
July 18—Chapters 9-17
July 25—Chapters 18-22

5 Comments

  1. Kristi July 18, 2017

    Amy,

    I hope that you have a refreshing vacation this week! This is a great book – I really feel drawn into the story and find myself thinking about it all the time. And there are a lot of issues that provokes thought on—you gave a great list. I am struck in particular about the issue of class distinction, and the negative association that the government has for Benfu. Because of Benfu’s history, it is hard for him to accept Jet Li because his father works for the government. But Benfu’s family also rejected Calli because she was poor. So Benfu has experienced rejection based on class, and now he is rejecting someone else for a similar reason. But he doesn’t seem to recognize that similarity. It seems that gradually, he is coming around to accept the possibility of Linnea dating Jet Li, when he finally is able to see him as an individual, like you said.

    The love and loyalty among this family is inspiring. Benfu chooses to be with Calli even when his family pushes him to leave her. And then after the tragedy of losing their first child, they choose to go against cultural norms again by adopting abandoned children. And the children, having experienced loss and rejection, find love, dignity, and respect, in Benfu and Calli’s humble home. In the midst of all the challenges of life, and especially poverty, they find real joy with each other. This struck me when Linnea was willing to break up with Jet Li out of loyalty to Benfu, even though she didn’t agree with him. And it also seems especially poignant when Benfu knows that he is dying, and decides that they should find other homes for the girls. That would be a selfless, sacrificial act, knowing how much he loves them…but I also think how tragic it would be for them to go to other homes and lose that love and joy that they have found in being together as family. Is it really the better choice?

    I’m curious to find out how this will play out.

  2. Amy Young July 19, 2017

    Thanks Kristi, I sleeping a shocking amount a night :). And I agree that the author highlighted the class distinctions in such a way that was very relatable… Meaning I could relate to, and see the tensions. I’ve been thinking about this book to you!

  3. sarah July 20, 2017

    I think it’s interesting that all of us have been leery of Jet Li from the start – and I’m pretty sure part/most of that is bc he’s rich. I also feel like Benfu’s distrust of and dislike of the upper classes and government people is very relatable- and yet I have no reason to feel that way. I’ve always just felt kind of prejudiced against rich people- despite growing up upper-middle class myself. And, I’ve always been confused by it and prayed many times that the Lord would take away that prejudice and help me to love all people equally.
    Still, if we all feel it’s relatable, I wonder if this is in some way an American thing. ? I know we, as a culture, like underdogs and rags-to-riches stories. So, do y’all think that we, culturally, dislike the opposite of those things- people on top of the hill that always have been? Just curious to see what y’all think… It just struck me that my personal sin (of prejudice) might also be a cultural one, which might open a new way to tackle it.

    1. Amy Young July 22, 2017

      Sarah good question and observation about Jet :). I think for me what I’m very leery of is how wide the culture gap is between Lin and Jet; because of the size of the gap he has most of the power in the relationship. I can see that Lin brings a level of relational depth that Jet doesn’t and that her family offers her more meaning and purpose than his does …. so it’s not like she brings nothing:). But I still wonder how realistic it is.

      But the cheering on the under dog? I can also see that at play and need to think about it some more as it comes to my own prejudices:)!

    2. Kristi July 23, 2017

      Sarah, thank you for provoking the question of our perceptions about people who are rich and sharing your own experience. I have struggled also with making assumptions about people or assigning people who have wealth or power to a certain ‘category’ with assumptions about their motivations. But at the same time, I know that I get frustrated if I see other people making assumptions about me or assuming I fit a certain category. And, living in a poor country, I fall into the ‘rich’ category here even if I don’t in my country of origin. I wonder if that struggle is perhaps partly cultural–in the U.S. we like to analyze, to do polls, and produce statistics about what X demographic category does or thinks. So perhaps that helps to train us to make assumptions and put people in categories rather than taking each person as an individual?

What do you think?

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