The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
I’m absolutely startled that this gem is Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s debut novel. The enchanting and lyrical first chapter had me scheming to prolong my duties every day. I even took a local subway on purpose to stay in Victoria’s world.
This is an intricate story of Victoria’s forlorn life. We start at her birth where she is abandoned. She then struggles with a nebulous foster care system, but her gifted brilliance in the language of flowers holds the key to this delicately intertwined and breathtakingly written story. I will never see flowers the same way again.
Victoria cautiously and slowly falls in love and she is only able to communicate through the meaning of flowers. As she attempts to pick up her broken and shattered life to find herself back home, my heart shattered to bits and pieces. Then, I too, started to think about the definition of a family. According to the dictionary:
noun ( pl. families )
1 [ treated as sing. or pl. ] a group consisting of parents and children living together in a household.
• a group of people related to one another by blood or marriage: friends and family can provide support.
• the children of a person or couple: she has the sole responsibility for a large family.
• a person or people related to one and so to be treated with a special loyalty or intimacy: I could not turn him away, for he was family.
• a group of people united in criminal activity.
• Biology a principal taxonomic category that ranks above genus and below order, usually ending in -idae (in zoology) or -aceae (in botany).
• a group of objects united by a significant shared characteristic.
• Mathematics a group of curves or surfaces obtained by varying the value of a constant in the equation generating them.
If you’re blessed with a loving, close-knit family, you may hug them an extra minute or two longer, or even perhaps, purchase an extravagant gift or two this holiday season after reading this novel. Or, you might immediately pick up the phone and tell them how much you love them. But for me, I’m blessed in so many ways in this life, just not when it comes to the subject of a—family.
The DNA and family you are born into is the most mystifying puzzle of this universe to me. Two people who raised me to love them and my siblings put me on this earth. And I had tried for almost three and a half decades with my obligatory love for them because I was conditioned from birth to do so.
You see, I fell in love with a Caucasian man (now my husband of sixteen years) that my family has rejected due to pure racial prejudice. This branded me as the “black sheep” (or sometimes, something much worse) of the family. Of course, interracial couples are currently common and even trendy, but sixteen years ago heads were turned about 90 degrees with a two-second pause by passersby. I like to think I contributed to the cause of mainstreaming interracial marriages and for breaking the mold in my tightly guarded Korean community.
For the first decade of our marriage, we really tried to participate in my family gatherings, but everyone refused to speak English to my husband—and bless his heart, he never complained. Alas, my husband and I were good-hearted immigrant kids and we were taught to take care of our elderly parents.
So, we ended up financially supporting both my mother and his father and we discovered that by doing so, we ended up having spoiled them rotten. Their demands grew absurdly unreasonable. Exhausted by my mother’s manipulations and non-stop complaining drama-ridden phone calls, I requested a time out. Of course, she did not take this too well, to say the least. I, on the other hand, confess shamefully and admit that this has been an oasis from an emotional desert—I’m no longer a puppet led by the master who has raised me skillfully, who knows exactly which strings to tug and pull.
Mother-daughter and father-son relationships are complex. Right now, Thanksgiving feasts for 10-12 people are the trending recipes, but there are plenty of people out there without that blissful picture-perfect family—and that’s ok. I think family is who you share mutual love and respect with, and not necessarily the one connected by the traditional definitions or even blood ties. Our holidays are lovely and peaceful now, and it’s no longer dictated by mandatory tasks. If you have a dysfunctional family like mine, stop feeling that you “ought to,” instead, take a break and snuggle with this novel and meet Victoria and her magical flowers.