A Chinese-Eurasian's autobiographical novel tracing a woman's dual quest for a writing career and romance
Ironically, Winnifred Eaton published most of her works under a Japanese-sounding name, Onoto Watanna, but she was of Chinese ancestry.
In Me: Book of Rembrance her narrator is called Nora Ascouth, but in the plot, as Nora journeys from her birthplace in Canada to the West Indies and to the United States, Eaton recounts her own early life and writing career. One of sixteen children, Nora leaves her destitute family in Quebec to earn a living. Only seventeen and with ten dollars in her pocket she sets sail for Jamaica and the chance to do newspaper work. Nora ends up in Chicago, moving from job to job, trying all along to sell stories she writes in her spare time. When she discovers that the man with whom she is in love is married, she moves to New York and gains achievement as a novelist. Against this nineteenth-century sensibility of Nora's search for success and love, Eaton conveys the powerlessness of the typical young woman of the working class. Her autobiographical plotline discloses a remarkable secret, Eaton's reticence about her own half-Chinese ancestry.
Despite the silence of the text, Me: A Book of Rembrance reveals turn-of-the-century views on race, gender, and class. In Jamaica Nora describes the racial inequities and disparities. Moreover, when she says, "I myself was dark and foreign-looking, but the blond type I adored," she reveals the extent of her own internalized oppression. Although the author believes her own mixed ancestry precludes prejudice on her part, the text proves otherwise. Like other ethnic immigrants, Nora is indoctrinated into America's Anglo preference.
Winnifred Eaton (1875-1954) was born in Montreal but lived most of her life in New York, Hollywood, and Calgary. Linda Trinh Moser is a doctoral candidate in English at the University of California, Davis.