本文作者Amy Tan(谭恩美)是一位著名的美籍华裔女作家,她于1952年在美国加州出生,曾就读医学院,后取得语言学硕士学位。她因处女作The Joy Luck Club(《喜福会》)而一举成名,成为当代美国的畅销作家,著有The Kitchen God’s Wife(《灶神之妻》)、The Bonesetter’s Daughter(《接骨师之女》)和The Hundred Secret Senses(《百种神秘感觉》)等小说,其作品多次获得文学界的重量级奖项,已被译成20多种文字,在世界各地广为流传。
本文选自小说Two Kinds的第一部分,在这部分内容中,作者通过讲述一些家庭小事反映出要强的母亲那“望女成凤”的急切心态。需要注意的是,由于作者的母亲说的大多是蹩脚英语,所以本文中有关作者母亲话语的引述都不大符合英文行文规范,此是作者特意为之。 ——Lavender
My mother believed you could be anything you wanted to be in America. You could open a restaurant. You could work for the government and get good retirement. You could buy a house with almost no money down. You could become rich. You could become instantly famous.
“Of course, you can be a 1)prodigy, too,” my mother told me when I was nine. “You can be best anything.”
America was where all my mother’s hopes lay. She had come to San Francisco in 1949 after losing everything in China: her mother and father, her home, her first husband, and two daughters, twin baby girls. But she never looked back with regret. Things could get better in so many ways.
Every night after dinner my mother and I would sit at the 2)Formica-topped kitchen table. She would present new tests, taking her examples from stories of amazing children that she read in 3)Ripley’s Believe It or Not, 4)Good Housekeeping, 5)Reader’s Digest, or any of a dozen other magazines she kept in a pile in our bathroom. My mother got these magazines from people whose houses she cleaned. And since she cleaned many houses each week, we had a great assortment. She would look through them all, searching for stories about remarkable children.
The first night she brought out a story about a three-year-old boy who knew the capitals of all the states and even most of the European countries. A teacher was quoted as saying that the little boy could also pronounce the names of the foreign cities correctly. “What’s the capital of Finland?” my mother asked me, looking at the story.
All I knew was the capital of California, because 6)Sacramento was the name of the street we lived on in Chinatown. “7)Nairobi!” I guessed, saying the most foreign word I could think of. She checked to see if that might be one way to pronounce 8)Helsinki before showing me the answer.
The tests got harder—multiplying numbers in my head, finding the 9)queen of hearts in a 10)deck of cards, trying to stand on my head without using my hands, predicting the daily temperatures in Los Angeles, New York, and London. One night I had to look at a page from the Bible for three minutes and then report everything I could remember. “Now 11)Jehoshaphat had riches and honor in abundance and...that’s all I remember, Ma,” I said.
And after seeing, once again, my mother’s disappointed face, something inside me began to die. I hated the tests, the raised hopes and failed expectations. Before going to bed that night I looked in the mirror above the bathroom sink, and I saw only my face staring back and, understanding that it would always be this ordinary face, I began to cry. Such a sad, ugly girl! I made12)high-pitched noises like a crazed animal, trying to scratch out the face in the mirror.
And then I saw what seemed to be the prodigy side of me—a face I had never seen before. I looked at my reflection, blinking so that I could see more clearly. The girl staring back at me was angry, powerful. She and I were the same. I had new thoughts, willful thoughts—or rather, thoughts filled with lots of won’ts. I won’t let her change me, I promised myself. I won’t be what I’m not.
So now when my mother presented her tests, I performed 13)listlessly, my head 14)propped on one arm. I pretended to be bored. And I was. I got so bored that I started counting the 15)bellows of the 16)foghorns out on the bay while my mother 17)drilled me in other areas. At last she was beginning to give up hope.
Two or three months went by without any mention of my being a prodigy. And then one day my mother was watching 18)The Ed Sullivan Show on TV. She seemed 19)entranced by the music, a 20)frenzied little piano piece with a mesmerizing quality, which alternated between quick, playful 21)passages and teasing, 22)lilting ones.
“Look here,” my mother said, calling me over with hurried hand gestures.
I could see why my mother was fascinated by the music. It was being 23)pounded out by a little Chinese girl, about nine years old. The girl had the 24)sauciness of a 25)Shirley Temple. She was proudly modest, like a 26)proper Chinese Child. And she also did a 27)fancy 28)sweep of a 29)curtsy, so that the 30)fluffy skirt of her white dress 31)cascaded to the floor like 32)petals of a large 33)carnation.
In spite of these warning signs, I wasn’t worried. Our family had no piano and we couldn’t afford to buy one, let alone 34)reams of 35)sheet music and piano lessons. So I could be generous in my comments when my mother 36)badmouthed the little girl on TV.
“Play note right, but doesn’t sound good!” my mother complained “No singing sound.”
“What are you 37)picking on her for?” I said carelessly. “She’s pretty good. Maybe she’s not the best, but she’s trying hard.” I knew almost immediately that I would be sorry I had said that.
“Just like you,” she said. “Not the best. Because you not trying.” She gave a little38)huff.
The little Chinese girl sat down to play an 39)encore of 40)Anitra’s Tanz, by Grieg. I remember the song, because later on I had to learn how to play it.
Three days after watching The Ed Sullivan Show my mother told me what my schedule would be for piano lessons and piano practice. She had talked to Mr. Chong, who lived on the first floor of our apartment building. Mr. Chong was a retired piano teacher, and my mother had traded housecleaning services for weekly lessons and a piano for me to practice on every day, two hours a day, from four until six.