Elsie Choy's background spans both America and China, from where her paternal grandparents emigrated to Hawaii in the 1800s. Born in Shanghai, she was raised in both cultures, tutored in the Chinese classics and attended both Chinese and American schools in that city. She worked at the Columbia University on a research project on contemporary cultures under the direction of Ruth Benedict, then Margaret Mead after Benedict's death.
What a wonderful story this is. It has all the elements of a fable and a detective story, yet it is authentic feminist history -one more revelation of the brutal way certain otherwise noble societies treated women and one more proof that the proud, gifted individual could still rise above circumstances to leave a mark on the world's memory. He Shuangqing, our heroine, lived in the lower Yangzi Valley of China in the eighteenth century. Bound into a brutish marriage, she poured her heart's blood into poems written on leaves, in ink made of pollen, until her death at 22. These verses, sensitively translated, are a gift in themselves. But the book goes further. For Elsie Choy pursued a line of clues back to the long-lost notebooks of a scholar-contemporary of the poet, who preserved not only the poems but a fascinating view of their background, for our edification today.