Jennifer J. Chow’s fiction writing has appeared in several literary magazines, but now she debuts her full-length novel, The 228 Legacy, which was inspired by stories about the 228 Incident recounted to her by her Taiwanese American husband and relatives.
Three generations in an all-female Taiwanese family living near Los Angeles in 1980 are each guarding personal secrets. Grandmother Silk finds out that she has breast cancer, as daughter Lisa loses her job, while pre-teen granddaughter Abbey struggles with a school bully. When Silk’s mysterious past comes out—revealing a shocking historical event that left her widowed—the truth forces the family to reconnect emotionally and battle their problems together. A novel of cultural identity and long-standing secrets, The 228 Legacy weaves together multigenerational viewpoints, showing how heritage and history can influence individual behavior and family bonds.
TaiwaneseAmerican.org’s Anna Wu chats with Jennifer about her latest work:
Hello Jennifer! Please tell us a little bit about your new novel, The 228 Legacy.
My debut novel is a Foreword Reviews’ Book of the Year Finalist. The 228 Legacy explores how 228 affects a Taiwanese-American family decades later. It explores how we can pass on emotional trauma—even without our awareness. It’s also a story about relationships across generations and the meaning of family.
The novel is titled The 228 Legacy, and while you explore the impact of traumatic events such as the 228 massacre of 1947 in Taiwan, the book is not historical fiction, nor does it really center on 228 itself. Instead, the novel is firmly set in America generations later. In fact, I love the subtlety and yet the pervasiveness of this “228 legacy” throughout the novel. What inspired you to take on 228 in your writing? And what inspired you to write about it in this sort of indirect way?
I was inspired to write about 228 after going on a family trip to Taiwan. It was a deeply emotional experience as I heard relatives retelling this dark period in Taiwanese history. Moreover, I was shocked at how the massacre and the White Terror period led to a covering up of this horrendous time. The results of this secret-keeping and how it would bleed across generations sprouted the idea for my novel. I chose to use a subtle writing approach because I was interested in the psychological hurt and hidden effects of 228. I know a lot of people perceive a traumatic experience as a beginning and end in itself, but it really does have more impact than at first glance, and I wanted to bring that to light.
Your website includes a tagline: Asian American fiction with a geriatric twist. Tell us a bit more about your background, how you became a novelist, and the influence of your social work.
I have my Master’s in Social Welfare, specializing in aging. I was fortunate to intern and work in diverse settings with older adults for years. At the same time, even as a child, I’ve always written stories. I realized that I could combine my two loves as a novelist because I can give insight into older adults in print. Stories are a great way to peek into unfamiliar worlds, and I wanted to provide a voice for this often overlooked population. I’m also fascinated with the communication between older and younger generations and that really influences a lot of my written work.
The most interesting/amazing thing has been the positive response from older Taiwanese and their support of my efforts to write about a significant event in their homeland. Also, I’m appreciative of the welcoming Taiwanese-American community; among other requests, I’ve been invited to attend seminars, compete in dragon boat races, and cook together.
Do you have any current projects in the works?
I continue to be fascinated with older generations. In fact, my current work is set in a senior home. I’m also writing Asian-American stories which again deal with themes of family, immigration, and identity.
What advice do you have for young Asian American writers?
Books need your voice. Stories should reflect the world around us and that includes the Asian American viewpoint. Find the story that really speaks to your heart. Then nurture it and let it out, trusting that your inner passion will resonate with others.