LeAnne Hardy: Our guest today, Alice Wisler, grew up as a missionary kid in Japan. She has also lived in Costa Rica and the Philippines, so she fits right in with our multi-national readership. Alice, your new book is called A Wedding Invitation—a very romantic title. Tell us about it.
Alice Wisler: Have you ever attended the wrong wedding? Samantha Bravencourt gets an invitation she thinks is for her and winds up at the wrong wedding. Then she meets a former student and before she knows it, she’s in the same room with Carson, the co-teacher from her refugee camp days, the very man who broke her heart nearly eight years ago. This time, Samantha is certain she will not let Carson tamper with her emotions. But Lien, the rowdy Amerasian who, as a child, was accused of stealing from people’s dwellings, has a request that involves both Sam and Carson. The two are asked to work together to help Lien find her mother before Lien’s wedding. Carson thinks the world of Lien; Samantha was the one who thought she was guilty of the accusation. Sam would rather live her life without Carson and Lien, and she tries, but they keep showing up, expecting from her. This is a story of being accepted, belonging, forgiveness, and second chances. There's romance, a little mystery, and a whole lot of Southern. Even Elvis shows up!
LH: Where did you get the idea for this story?
AW: Although fiction, A Wedding Invitation is loosely based on my seventeen months in a refugee camp in the Philippines. In 1984 and 1985 I taught English-as-a-Second-Language to children at the Philippine Refugee Processing Center, a refugee camp for southeast Asian refugees, in Bataan, Philippines. One of the things that struck me during my time there were the Amerasian kids—bi-racial children, half American and half Vietnamese. These children were often ridiculed and excluded, both in their own country and in the camp. So, there began my premise for my novel.
LH: When does the story take place?
AW: The main story takes place in 1993 in the United States with flashbacks to 1985 and 1986 in the camp.
LH: Tell us more about your experience in the camp. What were the biggest challenges for you personally?
LH: Part of the story is based on the stigma experienced by children who are part American/part Vietnamese. What makes mixed race a problem? How widespread is it?
AW: To answer your question, let me quote from Life Stream, an online source: “Born out of wedlock and abandoned by their American fathers, most of these Amerasian children ended up in the street because their Vietnamese mothers could not afford to raise them or could not bear the shame—the traditional Vietnamese society accorded little sympathy to the Amerasians and their families.
After the Communist takeover of South Vietnam in April 1975, the plight of the Amerasians aggravated. Considered children of the enemy, they were placed on the government’s black list and many were sent to forced labor or detention centers. Even the few fortunate enough to have had a family to live with were targeted by the local authorities. Under mounting public pressure, families raising Amerasians had to send them into hiding or out to the street.”
LH: That's terrible. It reminds me of the musical Miss Saigon.
AW: Truly heartbreaking. The stories that I captured in my own newsletters that I sent to supporters during my months in the camp conveyed much anguish. The Amerasians held a special place in my heart then, and continue to now.
LH: In the story Samantha is an American, back in the States after working in a refugee camp in the Philippines. Sounds familiar. How does her story reflect your own experiences and observations?
|The child to Alice's left is Amerasian.|
AW: The camp descriptions are similar to what I experienced while there. The story of Lien is one I made up; however, there were Amerasians I got to know who had suffered considerably. I kept their real-life stories in mind as I created a work of fiction. Like the main character, Samantha, I love Asian food! And actually, after my stint ended in the Philippines, I went home as she does, but to the land of my childhood---Japan. My parents still lived there at the time. I worked for three years in Kobe as an English teacher. Several of the teachers who were with me in the camp came to visit me in Japan and that made for nice reunions.
LH: Although flashbacks take place in the Philippines, most of the book is set in the US where various characters are attempting to build new lives. What challenges faced by immigrants do you bring out in the story?
AW: Learning our crazy English language! Also, I have one scene where it is clear, regardless of war and having escaped from political turmoil, most Vietnamese kids want to go home, home to what they know and love---Vietnam. They miss their country.
LH: This is a love story. It is also a story about forgiveness, acceptance, and coming to terms with our own prejudices. What would you most like readers to take away from reading A Wedding Invitation?
AW: One of the things I would love for readers to take away is to be willing to give up preconceived ideas about other cultures that might not be correct. If we could see the beauty in all of God’s children, regardless of race and color, that would make for a more harmonious world. In the story even Beanie, a mixed-race adult and one of Aunt Dovie’s North Carolina boarders, claims Christians in the church are not accepting of her due to her sordid past. In our congregations and neighborhoods, I hope we can reach out to those who are not always eagerly lovable.
LH: Thank you for being with us today, Alice.
Alice has graciously offered a signed copy of The Wedding Invitation to someone commenting on this blog between now and next Monday. This drawing is limited to readers in the US for postage reasons. As usual it is void where prohibited by law, and the odds of winning depend on the number of comments. Don’t forget to include your e-mail, writing out (at) and (dot) to fool phishing computers.
Thanks again, Alice. I know many readers will want to go to your website and check out the other books you have written.