In a hotel room in Wanting, a town on the borders of China and Burma, Na Ga is about to commit suicide. But when she’s interrupted by the hotel receptionist who tells her that her companion, Mr Jiang, has killed himself, Na Ga decides not to die just yet. Staying on alone in the hotel, she looks back on the circumstances that have led her to Wanting and begins to consider what she wants from her future.
Wendy Law-Yone instantly grabbed my attention with this fascinating and intriguing opening. The first chapter alone raised so many questions. Who is Na Ga and what is she doing in Wanting? What terrible things had happened in her life to cause her to want to kill herself? We do find out the answers to these questions, but only very slowly as Na Ga’s tragic story gradually unfolds.
We learn that Na Ga was born into Burma’s Wild Lu tribe and sold into slavery by her parents. From there, things go from bad to worse until she eventually ends up in Bangkok with her American lover, Will, who arranges for her to travel back to the village of her birth. The only problem is that Na Ga isn’t sure if she wants to go or not…and after years of conflict and unrest in Burma she doesn’t even know if her village still exists.
As you will have guessed, this is quite a bleak story but thankfully it’s not entirely without humour and lightness. Some of the lighter moments are provided by the character of Minzu, the happy, kind-hearted sixteen-year-old receptionist at the hotel in Wanting. Minzu is one of the few people who offers Na Ga genuine friendship and she brings a glimmer of hope and optimism to an otherwise harrowing story.
Na Ga herself could be a frustrating character at times, failing to take control of her own destiny and seeming to just accept all the bad things that happened to her, but I could see that much of her personality had been shaped by the abuse and neglect she was forced to endure over the years. She’d never had the freedom to choose what she wanted to do with her life. But while I did have a lot of sympathy for Na Ga, I was left feeling that I never really got to know her. I think the structure of the novel, interspersing the present day storyline with glimpses of Na Ga’s past, may have prevented me from becoming as fully absorbed in her story as I would have liked.
The Road to Wanting left me feeling saddened and angered. Some of the things that Na Ga experiences and witnesses are shocking and by the end of the novel I could understand what had driven her to consider suicide. The lack of connection I felt with Na Ga as a character is the only negative thing I can say about this excellent book.