Writing a novel is a constant on my bucket list. I’ve had starts and stops but mostly stops in my attempts at fulfilling this life goal, so I was encouraged when I learned that it took Matthew Salesses ten years to see his novel, The Hundred Year Flood, come to fruition. The result is a gorgeous story with many layers. It is a story that is steered in subtle yet powerful ways by the psychological effects of adoption yet flawlessly transcends being pigeonholed into the adoption literature category.
Recently, in my over scheduled life, it has been a rare occasion when I’ve been able to finish reading an entire book. Particularly, if I’m spending time reading for pure pleasure, the book has to be compelling enough that I want to pick it up again. That sounds basic, yet it’s amazing how many books I’ve been unable to finish in the last few years. Time is precious, so the story has got to be good. As a formerly voracious reader, it’s a stunning self-realization that Salesses’ novel is the first that I’ve completed in many months.
The story opens up in a hospital room in Boston, with Tee, the main character having suffered a major head injury while in Prague. The reader is immediately introduced to the mysterious ghost woman who appears throughout the novel. The ghost’s identity all consuming to Tee and, increasingly throughout the book, to the reader. The ghost is, in many ways, the crux of the story of Tee’s journey to escape his past and simultaneously, perhaps, to find himself.
After the suicide of his Uncle and 9/11, Tee breaks up with his girlfriend and decides to move to Prague, choosing the city for its “resistance.” The trip would be Tee’s first trip alone. “His first trip not counting his adoption.” The reader learns early on that Tee is a biracial Korean adoptee. His father, a philanderer and partially responsible for his Uncle’s suicide, spent time in Korea during the war. Tee’s complex relationship with his father is weaved throughout the story.
After a drunken public escapade on New Year’s Eve, almost immediately after arriving in Prague, Tee meets an artist and his wife, Pavel and Katka. Pavel ends up doing a series of paintings of Tee while Katka entertains him with stories. Through Pavel and Katka, Tee also meets Rockefeller, Pavel and Katka’s close Czech friend with the American name. Without giving away any of the story, the relationships between and amongst the group of characters continues in a way that intensifies as the reader gets deeper into the novel.
Tee’s longing for maternal or parental love and his feeling of being other is poetically felt throughout Salesses’ novel. From experience, I know that these themes are common to many adoptees and Tee is no exception. Yet, the relationships in The Hundred Year Flood are not just about adoption. Salesses’ writing paints vivid pictures in the reader’s mind. He paints pictures of flawed human beings with past experiences that cause them to love imperfectly. And, yet, isn’t that what it is to be human?
The fact that Tee is an adopted Asian-American lead character in The Hundred Year Flood becomes icing on the cake for Salesses’ novel. It is what initially drew me in but it is most certainly not what kept me in. While reading The Hundred Year Flood, I couldn’t help but think what a vivid and luscious movie it would make. Knock, knock Hollywood…