When Aimee Liu emailed me the announcement for a Book Soup reading and conversation with Ellen Graf, author of the new memoir The Natural Laws of Good Luck, her brief description of the book reminded me immediately of the author’s Modern Love essay in the New York Times two years ago: “Our Joy Knows No Bounds, or Lanes.” Lonely after a midlife divorce, Graf accepted a friend’s offer to visit China and meet her brother. In short order they married and, after waiting 18 months for his visa, began life together in upstate New York.
The quirky and funny story of a woman in upstate New York who marries a man from China whom she barely knows. They don’t share a language or a culture, but together they discover what matters most—a story of taking risks, culture clash, and the journey to real love.
Ellen was lonely and having no luck with personal ads when her Chinese girlfriend suggested that she meet Zhong-Hua, her brother in northern China. Ellen soon finds herself going to Beijing to meet him, and although they speak only a few words of each other’s language, they dec ide to get married.
Ellen and Zhong-Hua settle at Ellen’s farmhouse in upstate New York where they face a host of challenges, including the language barrier, financial problems, and profound cultural differences. When Ellen tries to teach Zhong-Hua to drive, explaining to him the concept of right-of-way and the meaning of a red light, he cheerfully replies, “I don’t think so,” and develops his own free-form, heart-stopping style of driving. A character worthy of first-rate fiction, Zhong-Hua rarely fails to surprise and entertain us, whether by his driving style, his culinary tastes (Ellen must learn to appreciate rock fungus, among other unusual delicacies), and his creative low-budget home maintenance solutions (who knew that concrete had so many uses?).
But Zhong-Hua is also a man with a complicated and painful past, which includes time spent in forced labor during Mao’s cultural revolution. He’s a survivor who has emerged from his struggles with remarkable optimism. Whenever things appear hopeless, his refrain to Ellen is, “Just try, maybe work.” Somehow, it usually does.
At its heart, The Natural Laws of Good Luck is a story of acceptance and of love beyond words. It is also a tale of finding renewal at midlife by taking a brave leap into the unknown.
The Natural Laws of Good Luck is a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, an Indie Next List Notable, and a Borders Original Voices pick. And here is Aimee’s blurb:
In The Natural Laws of Good Luck, Ellen Graf and her husband, Lu Zhong-hua, take the realm of marriage and spin it on an irresistible new axis. Conventional notions of romance become riddles as these two quirky, endearing individuals fumble from delight to disaster and back again. Graf’s exquisite memoir is quite simply the greatest love story I’ve ever read.