Sandra Tsing Loh Talks ‘Fire’

Cathereen Lim | Staff Photographer

Cathereen Lim | Staff Photographer
Sandra Tsing Loh reads passionately from her novel “Mother on Fire.”

Sandra Tsing Loh, author and National Public Radio (NPR) show host, spoke at the UC Irvine Bookstore this past week to promote her new book, “Mother on Fire.” Aside from reading the book’s first chapter, she also squeezed in references about her literary inspirations, their connections to her personal life and her broadcasting career.
“Mother on Fire” is based on Loh’s experiences trying to find a proper school for her four-year-old daughter. In the first chapter alone, she discusses everything from snobbish parents criticizing the Los Angeles Unified School District for being too massive to how the worst elementary schools are named after less popular United States presidents such as Warren Harding.
Aside from her own life, Loh’s presentation touched repeatedly on works of the 19th century, including Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” and Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” Loh made connections between literary works and her own experiences, particularly when discussing post-feminist movement works. For example, in referencing the 1986 play “Shirley Valentine,” she commented on the freedom the protagonist is able to achieve by leaving her life as a housewife and journeying to Greece to have an affair. Yet, according to Loh, after moving beyond age 40 as she has, such acts that could be perceived as female liberation become less practical. After all, according to Loh, it is easier to burn one bra than a dresser littered with them.
Female unity has been a theme throughout Loh’s work, which Loh said has also been unintentionally echoed in her work for NPR. For instance, though her show “The Loh Down on Science” focuses on scientific subjects rather than strictly feminist issues, an all-female cast and crew produce the show.
Loh mentioned that “Mother on Fire” differs from other works she has done because it deals with larger concepts, though she is still able to give it a personal touch.
“I think this is more political … Ford Madox Ford said that you shouldn’t try to write a novel until you’re 40 or over … I’m not sure if this is exactly true, but I felt that writing this book was just on a much bigger canvas and yet a more specific canvas than my others,” Loh said.
Stephanie Reich, an associate professor in UCI’s Department of Education, generally enjoyed the presentation and sympathized with Loh’s plight in finding a school for her daughter.
“It was great … I have concerns about drawing resources away from public schools,” Reich said.
Despite the fact that Irvine isn’t a hot spot for author visits, Loh was pleased by the event.
“Every time I come to Orange County, even though I forget exactly where I am going, I’m always amazed at these islands of really smart, enthusiastic people who really appreciate culture,” Loh said.
Although Matthew Astrella, the general book manager at the UCI Bookstore, felt that Loh’s work was different from what is usually showcased at the UCI Bookstore. He also believes that this shows the diversity of authors that the store is able to attract.
“She’s a little lighter for us. We tend to do heavier writing … [ but] it shows that [we] can mix it up a bit,” Astrella said.
The UCI Bookstore’s next event will take place on Thursday, Nov. 20 and will feature a discussion with Debra Ginsberg and Deanne Stillman, authors of the books “The Grift” and “Mustang,” respectively. Andrew Tonkovich, editor of the Santa Monica Review, will moderate the discussion.