A young, mixed-race composer, raised without meaningful connections to his Chinese heritage and struggling with identity issues, travels to China in search of his long-missing uncle.
Jason Lavoie is a young composer at the turn of the 21st century. Half Chinese and half white, he and his sister have been deprived by their abusive father of almost any connection to their Chinese heritage. As Jason approaches thirty, he becomes increasingly fixated on his Uncle Larry, who went to China in the '70s and never returned, and finds himself driven to write a chamber opera about his uncle, despite knowing next to nothing about what happened to him.
When his life goes sideways, he decides to go to China to find out.
An Idea About My Dead Uncle (ISBN13: 9781771834513; ISBN10: 177183451X) was published by Guernica Editions on September 2, 2019. It is distributed by University of Toronto Press (Canada), 5201 Dufferin Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M3H 5T8 (800) 565-9523 Fax (800) 221-9985 and by Gazelle Book Services (UK), White Cross Mills, High Town, Lancaster, United Kingdom LA1 1XS, 0-152-46-87-65 Fax 0-152-46-32-32
Jason Lavoie (La-voy, not La-vwa) is a young Canadian composer at the turn of the 21stcentury. Half Chinese (on his mother’s side) and half “assimilated Franco-Albertan,” he and his older sister Teresa have been deprived by their abusive father of almost any connection to their Chinese heritage. As Jason approaches thirty, he becomes increasingly fixated on his Uncle Larry—really his mother’s cousin—who went to China in the ‘70s and never returned. Jason finds himself compelled to write a chamber opera about Uncle Larry, despite knowing next to nothing about what happened to him.
His interest in his uncle grows into an interest in his Chinese heritage generally, with the encouragement of Louisa, his supportive partner. When Jason receives some money from the use of one of his pieces in a movie score (a string trio based on Dante’s Inferno), they take a trip to Montreal, where Louisa surprises him by taking him to the Chinese garden at the Botanical Garden. Immersed in the heritage he has been deprived of, Jason breaks down in tears.
Back in Calgary, Jason attends a barbecue at the home of his sister and her husband Ed, who is Chinese. Jason meets Ed’s cousin Judy, a professor of Asian studies, and they hit it off. Judy offers to teach Jason about Chinese history and culture. Jason accepts. He doesn’t, however, mention Louisa, which is a bad sign. Jason and Judy become lovers. While Jason is at Judy’s, an accident with Judy’s answering machine reveals their relationship to Louisa. By the time Jason gets back to their apartment, Louisa is gone. The impact of what he has done drives him deeply into himself.
Jason looks very similar to Uncle Larry, except that his eyes don’t have the epicanthic fold. He becomes convinced that Uncle Larry was really his father, and that a domineering uncle on his father’s side had his eyes altered when he was a baby to cover it up. With Louisa gone and Judy refusing to see him, he focuses on the chamber opera, but can’t move forward on it without knowing more about what happened to Uncle Larry. Ultimately, he decides to use some of his movie score money to go to China to look for him. He follows what leads he has from Beijing to Nanjing to increasingly remote areas of China’s interior. Along the way he falls in with an ambiguously European man named Silvio Mondschein, who challenges Jason’s perceptions of himself and his music.
As Jason travels deeper into China, his odyssey becomes increasingly surreal, echoing, among other things, Dante’s Inferno and the Chinese epic Journey to the West. By the final chapter, the linearity of the narrative has broken down, and we realize that much of it has been either dream or delusion. Jason ends up in a hospital in Hong Kong, achieving a kind of acceptance.