Name: A Handsome Letter, A memoir of love unexpected
Author: Sara L Keating
Publisher: Publicious Book Publishing, 2021, RRP: $29.99
A Handsome Letter, A memoir of love unexpected is an account of an unlikely love story between two people, one living in Australia and the other in China. ‘Was it their destiny to fall in love? Although suitably matched as the dragon and the rat in the Chinese Zodiac, they had a dilemma. Sara was born too early, and Zhang Jianlong was born late — 27 years too late.’
Sara L Keating tells a true story of her attraction to a Chinese man she met when she attended Hubei University as a Mandarin language exchange student. Prior to going to China, Sara ended her long-term marriage. She was a mother and grandmother at the time.
Zhang Jianlong, known as Paolo in the memoir, met Harry, Sara’s co-student in China, at a local post office and struck up a friendship with them. He took them to his hometown where the three stayed briefly with Paola’s family. When Sara was leaving to return to Australia, Paola asked her if she would write to him. Paola completed his university studies and was job seeking, a task that was difficult.
It was through a series of letters and phone calls Sara and Paolo built up a strong if not confusing attachment to each other. The correspondence forms the backdrop to the memoir and contains engaging and moving reflections on the dilemma the two faced.
When Sara returned to China, their attraction to each other intensified. Paola was unable to tell his family about Sara and culturally the two were at risk of being ostracised or even dealt with by local authorities because they were living together. The age difference between them was a significant factor that weaved its uncertainty on the relationship from the beginning.
This memoir is beautifully written. Sara Keating writes with honesty and sincerity, taking the reader on a painful journey of impossible love. Impossible, but not without fervent desire and genuine yearning against all odds. It’s this very aspect that makes the story both engaging and yet agonisingly poignant.
China comes alive in this memoir. The colour and the greyness, the freezing winters, the hot airless nights, the smells and aromas, the spicy food, the noise, the complex languages and the fascinating people. There’s a dense richness of cultural ideology, superstitions and beliefs that the author has cleverly woven through this book. Sara L Keating is a true observer of community life.
This is a story to read without judgement, to walk in the shoes of the two people involved. Both have good intentions and want the best for each other. This memoir is a reminder that true love does not always conquer societal attitudes and that happy endings are sometimes only the outcomes of fairy tales. It is also a reminder that special love isn’t always forever, but it can bring immense joy for a brief time.
Sara L Keating is the pen name chosen by Anna Yang. Anna lives in Toowoomba, Queensland.
Reviewed by: Heather Whitford Roche
Ballarat Writers Inc Book Review Group, November 2021