* 2019 Openbook Award
* 2019 Mirror Weekly Book of the Year
* 2020 Golden Tripod Award Recommended Title
Patriarchal moralities in East Asia have often forced young women to keep a distance from their own sexual physiology and spirit. Chang Yi-Hsum’s collection, Herstory of Sex, tells four stories of women finding their way back to themselves – by many different roads.
Sexual conservativism in East Asia, especially concerning young women, is everywhere to be encountered. Patriarchal moralities often force young women to keep a distance from their own sexual physiology and spirit. Yet this book will not abide that distance: these four stories of women returning to their own sexuality are here to defy taboo and bring us all into the conversation – by an imaginative means necessary.
The first two stories dive with us deep into realms of fantasy: “Sluts Aren’t Built in a Day” brings Pan Jinlian, the famous femme fatale of the Chinese classic Plum in a Golden Vase, into today’s world, and follows her through college and into her young life. The second story begins with the inexplicable appearance of a young man outside the 43rd-floor apartment window of a Taiwanese exchange student. She lets him in, and although he never speaks, they experience a time together in which they communicate in the language of human kindness.
The subsequent two stories, which are connected by their first-person narrator, begin with a series of short vignettes on being a girl in a sexually repressed social environment, such as a mother hitting her daughter for complaining of an “itch down there”, parents who won’t even talk about condoms, but will discuss abortions quite freely, and other bitter interactions. The second story follows the narrator into her own sexual life, through private stories of rediscovery.
With an essayist’s grace and a novelist’s invention, Chang Yi-Hsum gives us the book we need that is also the book we want. Herstory of Sex reaches out to an emotional world that social repression had divorced from itself. In doing so, it makes us whole again.