The Other Side of Paradise
The Other Side of Paradise written by Staceyann Chin is startling in its clarity, fresh in its narration and the writing is as bold as the young poet, writer, lesbian activist is daily in her tweets or one of her performances. TOSoP is about a young girl who refused to be quiet. She came into the world unexpectedly with lungs much bigger than her premature body should have had.
What I love most about The Other Side of Paradise is the writer’s voice, specifically Staceyann the child’s voice. The voice is authentic. You can’t manufacture this. Some would say the child’s voice is audacious, and it is. In a culture where it is trendy to create in-your-face work, The Other Side of Paradise doesn’t have to scream at you to captivate you. Young Staceyann not knowing how dangerous it is to speak her mind honestly makes you cringe and want to hush the child before she says one more thing that earns her a scolding, a smack and rejection. It’s the cruel reality of being innocent and vulnerable that wallops you upside the head.
This memoir plays out like a daring Indi film. The footage looks like it’s unedited but the rendering is so flawless, you know it’s a carefully crafted work of a real writer. While we get Staceyann as-is there is nothing clumsy or awkward here. This work isn’t burdened with analysis nor is it a sanitized, hindsight-laden trope. Instead we come to know Chin through reliving her experiences and digesting choice reflections of what those experiences mean. Staceyann the child suffers abuse, neglect, abandoment and rejection but she doesn’t carry her victimization around like a child’s tattered blanket. She calls it what it is and does what she can rid herself of it so she can get on with becoming the woman she wants to be.
There are many poignant episodes in this memoir. In all of them, I was so vested that often I was having an internal dialogue with Staceyann: Oh, no, Staceyann, no, not this time. Don’t answer. Don’t tell the truth. Be quiet. Instead of pandering, Chin gives us relief when we need it with organic episodes that say even when life is ugly we find some joy. When the young girl discovers she can pleasure herself, I laughed and ached with her. When her aunt scolds her, when she tells Staceyann that her life is her own fault, and it is Staceyann’s responsibility to avoid being hurt by others, I relived the sting of being shamed and the isolation of knowing there is no one you can cry out to, to protect you, and I know many women who figuratively know the desperation of wrapping yourself tightly in a filthy, disgusting sheet. Ms. Chin’s memoir is a testament that while we may been violated, we do not have to remain victims. We can fight back and win.
I knew little about Ms. Chin’s work or her before reading The Other Side of Paradise. What I discovered was a child I did know. I am glad I took the time to listen, to listen to the child who grew, who dared to not be quiet and who later became the woman who was audacious enough to tell her story. Ms. Chin’s memoir is impressive, provocative, brilliant writing. It is an unflinching look at the other side of Paradise.