I have known Jerlian for over twenty years, but my seven year old daughter Pipi seems to have a much better grasp of what Auntie Tsao is all about. Last Sunday we were strolling along 4th Street in Berkeley, where all the beautiful things are. Pipi pointed to a dress in the window of a fashion shop and said to me, "that dress looks like Tsao a-yi." It was a dark purple silk dress, with an amazing assortment of bright-color ribbons sawn to the hem at the bottom. From afar, the dress looked like a graceful bird with feathered wings that were about to take the bird off the ground. We went into the shop and took a closer look at the dress. We found that those ribbons had embroideries of an unthinkable mixture of objects, like computers, ecklaces, sports cars, turtles, golden roses, half-eaten apples, and baby bottles!
Jerlian is full of surprises. I never know what was waiting for me when I opened her book manuscripts for the first time. But oddly enough, I have been quite willing to let her take me to wherever she wanted to take me. This is not me being adventurous for a change. This is Jerlian's magical worlds of words. Before reading Jerlian's stuff, I did not know that characters could have characters and words are more than words. I did not know that names could substitute and represent personalities simultaneously, and the life of words is dangerously intertwined with that of our own.
As a hopeless traditionalist and a social researcher with boxed imagination, I repeatedly pleaded to Jerlian to write "a real story." But Jerlian is too ambitious for that. Her Book of Imagination is not A story, and it is more real than real. The book is a project with many dimensions: it is a playful performance of characters with characters and words with personalities; it is Jerlian's own soul searching ( pardon my use of a boring English expression, Jerlian -- don't expect too much from a geographer ); it is a declaration of war to expand literary territories; it is also an honest and brave critique of pseudo arts in an overly-commercialized world. Underneath the playfulness and the "imagination," Jerlian is telling real storieS of her mindS, of the worldS she sees, and of herselVES. She has given me much more than I asked for.