Leaving Mother Lake – Yang Erche Namu & Christine Mathieu


4/5 stars overall. Beautifully written and engaging.

Recommended to me by my friend and mentor Dr. Cindy LaCom, this book takes you on a journey to places I personally have never set foot or experienced. In a remote community around the Himalayas, Moso women in some ways, have more/different power than other women in the rest of the world.  The household is sort of structured around women and they can take multiple lovers without the gaze of a judgmental other. They are self-sufficient within their large families.  Marriage is not expected or encouraged and women’s lovers come to them at night and do not live with them. In this way, families are kept in tact and marriage does not “create” new ones. However, since this community is so very remote, sometimes people want to leave to have other experiences. Even though these instances are rare, that is the path of the main character, Namu.

I experienced this work in almost a dreamlike fashion and was able to find it very relatable even though my experiences are vastly different than what is described in this book. I can still relate to feeling prideful and not wanting to admit mistakes to my mother as well as the confusion attached to experiencing death/loss at a young age. The strength of the women described in this book are beyond comparison. It is truly awe-inspiring. The glimpse the reader gets of Namu’s mindset is so powerful. You see her inner struggle and turmoil relating to trying to juggle vastly different worlds and parts of herself (desires, traits, etc).

The Moso aren’t exactly matriarchal or even matrilineal. Women in a lot of ways are still unequal in my opinion. It seemed as though they could not pursue academics, or if they did, that was out of the ordinary. Additionally, while they did not appear to be shamed for being sexually active, I was disappointed to learn that talking about menstrual blood was shameful… even showing it to animals (yaks being sacred, etc). This bothered me but at the same time I suppose didn’t surprise me. I felt a sort of universal connection with women I have never met and a collective feeling of understood oppression in some ways. A custom of the Yi people was described in which a bride runs away for days from her new husband and tries to make it to her father’s house. If she makes it to her father’s house she is respected, but if she is found by the men chasing her she will be carried back to her husband. This angers me as it seems deeply objectifying.

The quote below I found very powerful:

But even catastrophes cannot last forever. Once the crops are devastated, the locusts move on.
There were points in my life when I felt as though I stood among ruin, my life in shambles … but if you are still breathing, things can be rebuilt. I’ve felt that people have took all they could from me and I was left with nothing, but I always somehow managed to regain my voice and self-respect. Even if it took a long time. Love this quote.
Another quote I enjoyed was about a television: Something a group of young women Namu was traveling with hadn’t experienced before.
Can this thing steal our souls? – Latsoma
Yes, yes it can. I truly believe Western culture in particular is so preoccupied with putting on a show that it becomes all too easy to get caught up in that gaudy madness.
I found myself getting very angry when Namu came back from her adventures singing in contests beyond the familiar mountains she called home and how was expected to cook for the teachers (males) because it was a prestigious job. Her winning contests, I guess, made her a sort of hero so now she was given this job. This made me mad because she was expected to do it. I react strongly to feeling as though I’m forced to do things I don’t want to. Anyway, it was a coveted position apparently because it was a paid one. So Namu came back and felt like she was in a cage, maybe her new job made it seem shiny, but a shiny cage is still a cage. What confused me is that in this society it seemed as though women had power in some instances but not others.
Lastly, another thing that resonated with me was this feeling of leaving other versions of myself behind when I chose to move or cut people out of my life. I felt as though I had so many options/potential lives and, as always, choices had to be made. It was so interesting and inspiring to have a glimpse at how this brave young girl became a strong woman and made hard choices to follow her dreams.

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