TGWTHTF Resize.jpg

“I could not put this memoir down.”

Abraham Verghese

author of Cutting for Stone

“A thoughtful consideration of the ways women and girls survive—and even thrive—within oppressive patriarchal systems that refuse to recognize them as full people.”

Victoria Namkung

NBC News

“She so beautifully shows how her background gave her the drive to soar to new heights and gain entry into one of the most prestigious colleges in the US. A must-read!”

Susan Blumberg Kason

author of Good Chinese Wife

co-editor of Hong Kong Noir

Reviews

Kwan Kew Lai met her first Punjabi woman doctor while lying in a hospital bed with a severe kidney infection at the age of fourteen. Watching the woman walk away down the hall, Kwan Kew was convinced she could, and would, carve out her own destiny.

In the British Straits Settlement of Penang Island, she was born into an impoverished Chinese family of two boys and ten girls on the cusp of the Japanese occupation during World War Two. She did not wish to repeat the life of her uneducated mother, burdened with an endless brood, nor tolerate the fact that her father considered girls useless since they could not carry on their family name. 

The newly independent country of Malaya developed a national policy favoring one racial group, the Bumiputras, vastly diminishing her chance of receiving a university scholarship. Her fortuitous introduction to a free library and her determination to continue her education, led to the opportunity of a lifetime: a scholarship from Wellesley College.

When her father saw her off at the Penang International Airport as the first child to attend college, she proved herself to him, but more importantly she started the journey of a lifetime fulfilling dreams that originated as a young girl playing in the mud with the chickens.

In The Girl Who Taught Herself to Fly, the author weaves in her family’s story of joy, sorrow, loss, love, and endless struggles with poverty and hunger. This poignant memoir, with universal and timeless themes, will leave you in awe.

PRAISE

Abraham Verghese

author of Cutting for Stone

“This poignant memoir, beautifully written and filled with humor and pathos, portrays a world few of us can imagine. That such an incredible doctor and writer could emerge from such challenging beginnings is a testament to the human spirit, or perhaps to her unique spirit. I could not put this memoir down.”

Victoria Namkung

NBC News

“A deeply moving and clear-eyed look at gender, family, culture, poverty and the boundless power of education. A thoughtful consideration of the ways women and girls survive—and even thrive—within oppressive patriarchal systems that refuse to recognize them as full people.”

Erica M. Elliot, MD

author of Medicine and Miracles in the High Desert: My Life Among the Navajo People

“Dr. Kwan Kew Lai has written a profoundly moving and inspiring memoir about her gripping journey from extreme poverty in Malaysia, along with strong resistance against girls getting an education, to becoming a medical doctor and member of the Harvard Medical faculty physicians. Her story demonstrates what can be achieved—against all odds—with a strong intention and fierce, unrelenting determination.”

Shirley Geok-Lin Lim

author of

Among the White Moon Faces

American Book Award

“A graphic testimony to Malaysian colonial/postcolonial communal differences, resistance to Chinese gender inequities, and US immigrant opportunities—Kwan Kew Lai offers us a triumphalist survivor’s memoir.”

Susan Blumberg Kason

author of Good Chinese Wife

co-editor of Hong Kong Noir

“An evocative story of Kwan Kew Lai’s childhood in post-World War II Penang. She so beautifully shows how her background gave her the drive to soar to new heights and gain entry into one of the most prestigious colleges in the US. A must-read!”

Gina Troisi

author of

The Angle of Flickering Light

“In this poignant memoir, Kwan Kew Lai details the harsh realities of her girlhood growing up in an impoverished Chinese family, where females hold no value and seldom have access to education, or a life beyond marriage and childrearing. This is the story of a brave, determined woman who, from a very young age, observes the multitude of obstacles and barriers before her, and goes on to obliterate them one by one, paving her own path to freedom. The Girl Who Taught Herself to Fly is a book of survival and triumph. It is a true testament to the power and perseverance of the human spirit.”

“The Girl Who Taught Herself to Fly is a breathtaking memoir with an ambitious scope. Kwan Kew Lai writes of her childhood in Malaysia, overcoming poverty, hunger, illness, and sexism to eventually end up in the United States as a student at Wellesley College. Lai’s prose is detailed, precise, and engrossing––this story will draw you in immediately and hold you tight until the last page––and also powerful and informative as Lai uses her own personal history as a way to teach her readers about the greater and complicated racial, ethnic, religious histories of the people of Malaysia. More than anything else though, The Girl Who Taught Herself to Fly is an inspiration. Lai’s memoir is a celebration of the power of strong women, as Lai shares not only her own story but also the stories of those who helped her along the way: her mother, her sisters, her friends, and her teachers.”

E.B. Bartels

author of

Good Grief: On Loving Pets, Here and Hereafter