The Light of Eternal Spring by Angle Di Zhang

Estranged family, grappling with identity, magical realism, and a lens on a part of the world I was interested in knowing more about? The Light of Eternal Spring by Angel Di Zhang hits all of these points, in what is a reflective, mindful, healing look at the complications of family, immigration, culture, and finding yourself. Amy Hilton was born Wu Aimee in the village of Eternal Springs, Manchuria, China, before she left home for boarding school, followed by university, and transformed herself in Amy, an American photographer in an advertising agency. And this all works, until the opening of the book, where she finds herself listening to an old Manchu woman translate the letter her sister has sent, saying their mother has died of a broken heart.

“The Light of Eternal Spring…is a reflective, mindful, healing look at the complications of family, immigration, culture, and finding yourself.”

Shattered, Amy knows that her mother’s death is her own fault, having stayed away so long, having had a fraught relationship, and having had a huge fight the last time they saw one another. She decides to go home for a short visit, to honour her mother and reconnect with her distant family. The trip proves to be monumental, however, as she lets in memories she had tried to let go, learns about her family and how they live now, and tries to reconcile Amy with Aimee.

Di Zhang’s writing is dreamy and reflective, guiding us through Amy’s grief and struggles as an immigrant, as a daughter who left her mother behind, and as someone who changed her whole life and identity to fit in her American life more comfortably. The pieces of magic are subtle and drive Amy’s story forward, and having read some magical realism in the last year where it felt shoehorned in, it was a pleasant surprise to go back to well-crafted magical realism. Even though Amy feels distant from who she was as a child in Eternal Spring, her work on giving herself room to have both of these parts throughout the book is impressive and makes for a really lovely story. I’m not a migrant myself, but I did recognize the themes of identity and culture from other books I’ve read in the same vein, and they resonated.

The Light of Eternal Spring was both familiar and unique: a book with themes readers will be able to find themselves in, but written in a style and story which rebuffs traditional Western chronology and patterns, to create a layered, complex, and very real narrative. While I wasn’t blown away by it, it was a very strong novel, and one I think I’ll return to, which is a stronger measure in the long run.

ANGEL DI ZHANG was born in northeast China, and raised in China, England, Canada and the United States. She was educated in the joint BA-MIA program at Columbia University, and is a painter and an internationally exhibited fine art photographer. She lives in a secret garden near Toronto.

  • Random House Canada, April 25, 2023
  • Pages: 240
  • ISBN: 9781039004504

Alison Manley has ricocheted between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for most of her life. Now in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she is the Cataloguing and Metadata Librarian at Saint Mary's University. Her past life includes a long stint as a hospital librarian on the banks of the mighty Miramichi River. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. While she's adamant that her love of reading has nothing to do with her work, her ability to consume large amounts of information very quickly sure is helpful. She is often identified by her very red lipstick, and lives with her partner Brett and cat, Toasted Marshmallow.