Becoming Sui Sin Far
Early Fiction, Journalism and Travel Writing of Edith Maude Eaton
McGill-Queens University Press 2016
New Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in Asian American StudiesNew Books in CommunicationsNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Literary StudiesNew Books in LiteratureNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network November 12, 2016 Nataliya Shpylova-Saeed
Becoming Sui Sin Far: Early Fiction, Journalism and Travel Writing of Edith Maude Eaton (McGill-Queens University Press, 2016) is a collection of works–previously published and newly discovered–produced by Edith Eaton, the writer whose literary status seems to escape the limitations of definitions and categorizations. Sui Sin Far is one of the pseudonyms Eaton invented: this gesture can also be presented as an attempt to escape the limitations of, so to speak, one life. Through compiling Eaton’s diverse oeuvre, Mary Chapman, the editor of the collection, presents her vision of Eaton, initiating the reconsideration of the stereotypical reading of Eaton as the writer who was interested predominantly in the exploration of the themes connected with Chinese immigrants in Canada and in the US.
The current edition includes four main parts that present the trajectory of Eaton’s writing: “Early Montreal Fiction, Poetry, and Literary Sketches (1888-1891)”;” Selected Early Journalism: Montreal (1890-1896)”; “Selected Early Journalism: Jamaica (1897-1897)”; “Selected Later Fiction (1896-1906)”; “Cross-Continental Writing (1904)”. Having conducted a careful and detailed investigative work, Chapman not only adds new details to the existing portrait of Eaton but also pinpoints aspects that highlight sides–literary, cultural, sociological, political–that have been dismissed or disregarded before. Thus, as the collection demonstrates, Eaton can be characterized by an exclusive ability of curiosity and constant exploration of diverse themes, ranging from observations of trivial life situations to acute insights into the individual’s psychology and ironic remarks concerning social, economic, political issues that were accompanying the era which Eaton happened to witness. Whichever episode Eaton may write, she seems to be indefatigably pursuing the topic that can be claimed to be a link connecting a diversity of fiction and/or journalistic pieces: individuality. The first part of the collection opens with an eloquent statement: “After all I have no nationality and am not anxious to claim any. Individuality is more that nationality (“Leaves from the Mental Portfolio of an Eurasian, 230″).” Eaton’s diverse writing can be interpreted as an attempt to explore her own individuality and to discover writing as traveling: through writing Eaton obtains access to unlimited space of imagination, subverting the boundaries of national, gender, racial, social, political, or literary conventions.
Highlighting Eaton’s diverse oeuvre, Chapman shifts an emphasis from national topics (American, Chinese, or Canadian) to transnationalism and transculturalism, contributing to the decoding of Eaton’s understanding of individuality. In the introduction that accompanies the collection, Chapman argues for Eaton’s in-betweeness: Eaton surpasses the boundaries of Asian American and Asian Canadian literature. Chapman’s discussion of Eaton that emphasizes the blurry boundaries of nationhood and invites the conversation about nation formation from the stand point of shifting concepts contributes to the reconsideration of literary canons.
Dr. Mary Chapman is Professor of English and Acting Chair of Arts Studies in the Department of English at the University of British Columbia. Dr. Chapman is the author of Making Noise, Making News: Suffrage Print Culture and US Modernism; and a co-editor of Treacherous Texts: An Anthology of US Suffrage Literature. She also has numerous publications in academic journals.