‘The Ugliest Babies In The World’ by Vanessa Chan

The Ugliest Babies In The World by Vanessa Chan, 2020

The magic trick:

Telling the story of a dying woman through the way she tells the stories of other people

This story masterfully does two things at once.

On the surface, we are learning some family history, one cousin’s history at a time. But because the histories are being told through the narrator’s dying grandmother and her flippant personality, they become less a family history and more of a portrait of the woman herself.

And that’s quite a trick on Chan’s part.

The selection:

Second there is Cousin Ah Hooi, who was born jaundiced – yellow and speckled all over like an overripe starfruit.

“And ah, her parents had to leave her in the hospital under a UV light for a few weeks, but then she got burned, which is why she’s so dark now!”
Ah Hooi spent her childhood being called, Gelap, which means “dark” in Malay, even as her mother scrubbed the skin of her face raw every day to try to “get to the fairer layers.” Ah Hooi’s mother also covered Ah Hooi in whitening creams that made her body sting, redden, and flake.

“Grandma,” I try to explain, “The UV light didn’t darken her. That’s genetic.”
Before, my grandma would ignore me, usually more preoccupied with the greater issue of Ah Hooi’s marriageability.


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