|Photo by Carl Van Vechten|
In "Chefoo, China," American author Thornton Wilder recalls his time in an international school. Though as it's set in the early 1900s, it's not exactly any way to gauge what such schools today are like. To be honest, my real reason for choosing today's story is because Amazing Race 21 started yesterday, with the racers heading first to China. I remembered that Margot at Joyfully Retired reviewed this story for Short Story Monday back in December, so I figured it was worth a read. I'm normally reluctant to read biographical pieces for SSM as I consider short stories to be fiction, but at Story of the Week, where The Library of America presented this story, Wilder's memoir is described as blending memory and fact with fictional flourishes. Fictional flourishes are good enough for me.
"Chefoo, China" is an interesting story from a historical point of view. Set in a school run by Anglican missionaries, Wilder's experiences sound similar to many school tales set in similar time frames back here in North America. Strict teachers, emphasis on religion, it's not at all surprising unless you're expecting to learn much about China. The children boarded at the school, with other international students, and were not allowed to visit the local town. It's like staying at an all-inclusive resort and expecting to experience the real Cuba. You won't.
However, there's one boy who is determined to sneak out. At first it seems as if it's all about the audacity of the escape, the glory of rebellion, but there are hints that he comes to appreciate the forbidden culture. Unfortunately, it's only hints we get as the story ends super abruptly. Apparently this story was found among Wilder's papers from the 60s and was part of an unfinished memoir. I have many problems with reading unfinished excerpts, no matter how compelling they are (and this one is mildly compelling). Why didn't Wilder finish it? Was he unhappy with it? What would have followed? Reading this is too stressful. I'm moving to Brunei.
(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)