The central protagonist of Patricia Powell's The Pagoda, Mr. Lowe, is a transgendered figure, a girl named Lau A-yin who is dressed as a boy by her father until she reaches adolescence, when he attempts to sell her into marriage to satisfy debts. She escapes by cutting her hair into the imperial queue, dressing as a male, and stowing away on a ship bound for Jamaica. During the voyage, she is discovered by the captain of the ship and is beaten, bound, and raped. Just before the ship arrives in Jamaica, Lau A-yin is again dressed as a male and forced to become “Mr. Lowe,” an identity maintained for the next forty years. This essay situates the novel and the character Lowe within contemporary scholarship on migration, nation, and “transing,” and argues that Powell's novel interrogates the relationships between the body, nation, history, and memory. Lowe is a figure who, similar to many of the Chinese in the Caribbean in the early twentieth century, loses connections to the language, history, and land of his birth as he forges an identity in his new home. In an illumination of a history not explored, The Pagoda, with its multiple crossings of gender, race, and desire, focuses our attention on the processual—how diasporic subjects are “made” and what happens when the histories of colonialism cannot contain what they have made. This essay reads Lowe as a figure who experiences both a loss of subjectivity and a reconstruction of a self, home, and history.
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Tzarina T. Prater; Transgender, Memory, and Colonial History in Patricia Powell's The Pagoda. Small Axe 1 March 2012; 16 (1 (37)): 20–35. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/07990537-1548101
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