Genres: Asian Lit, Literary Fiction, Semi-Autobiographical
Lily Chaidee was never at home with herself, her family, or her geography, and as a hybrid-Asian growing up in the Texas Panhandle during the 1960’s, she was ill-equipped to face the challenges that would inevitably come. Amarillo, an inhospitable place for an ethnically diverse family, was only part of the problem. Mental illness, sexual predation, addiction, and hypocrisy lay formidable difficulties in her path. But Lily was smart, and smart people often find ways to triumph over horrific circumstances. Even if she could claim her joy, sometimes the worst enemy dwells within. Lily must seek her peace and her place in order to rise above the things that bind her.
The Last Mermaid Princess by Lily Lewis is described by the author as her pseudo-autobiography and tells the life story of Lily Chaidee. Born to a mentally unstable white mother and an emotionally unavailable Thai father, she was frequently subjected to racial abuse as well as emotional and physical abuse and struggled to find love anywhere she could, the latter leading her on a downward path of self-destruction. The toxic love from those closest to her resulted in her shutting down her feelings and closing her heart and her body to the appalling things that she was subjected to. Unable to resurrect emotions that over the years she had buried deep within her, Lily unwittingly finds herself becoming a duplicate of her mother. It takes a long period of self-evaluation, numerous mistakes, imprudent decisions, and heart-wrenching experiences before Lily is able to rise above her past and become what she perceives as a perfect mother to her children.
Unfortunately, without realizing until it was too late, Lily discovers that her actions destroy all that she has held dear, and she loses those she loves the most. It takes ill-health and the onset of her senior years for Lily to reflect on her life, to realize where she had put her own needs above those of her children, and to see how her past had dictated her future.
The Last Mermaid Princess by Lily Lewis is an incredible personal account of growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s when racism in Texas was rife, and drug abuse an everyday occurrence. The author, Lily Lewis, writes beautifully, full of emotion even when she recounts the darkest times. She has a wonderful command of the written word, with descriptive phrases that resonate with the reader, such as ‘depression followed me like a shadow’ when struggling to find the positive side of every negative, and referring to herself as a ‘ghost hoarder’ when focusing on the many people and things that haunt her from the past. I found the whole book to be a compelling read, and I know it will be a story that will stay with me for a long time. Such was the skill of writing that I felt a personal attachment to Lily, even empathizing when she made blatant mistakes and acted inappropriately, or made decisions that would clearly end in disaster.
In the current social landscape with a growing awareness of sexual improprieties and misogyny and deep-seated racism and hypocrisy, the themes of the book demonstrate that these problems have always been there, hiding in plain sight. The marginalization that young Lily experiences along with other forms of exploitation only go to show that beneath the friendly Texas hospitality dwells a sinister side.
I have rarely felt such strong feelings for an author, and I commend Lily Lewis for conveying every conceivable emotion with exquisite prose in a gripping and heart-wrenching story.
Reviewed by Jane Finch for Chick Lit Cafe
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