The Life Of A Banana – Blog Tour
Welcome to my stop on Legend Press’ The Life Of A Banana Blog Tour. Legend Press is re-issuing this classic novel that was long-listed for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. The extract I am sharing with you today is taken from the first and second chapters and it sets the scene for the novel perfectly. Enjoy the extract and please make sure to visit all the other great blogs that are participating in the is tour, information is on the poster below. Thanks for stopping by and come back again for more blog tours this month.
01.06.2018 / Legend Press / Drama / Paperback / 256pp / 978-1787198562
About The Life Of A Banana
Xing Li is what some Chinese people call a banana – yellow on the outside and white on the inside. Although born and raised in London, she never feels like she fits in. When her mother dies, she moves with her older brother to live with venomous Grandma, strange Uncle Ho and Hollywood actress Auntie Mei. Her only friend is Jay – a mixed raced Jamaican boy with a passion for classical music.
Then Xing Li’s life takes an even harsher turn: the school bullying escalates and her uncle requests she assist him in an unthinkable favour. Her happy childhood becomes a distant memory as her new life is infiltrated with the harsh reality of being an ethnic minority.
Consumed by secrets, violence and confusing family relations, Xing Li tries to find hope wherever she can. In order to find her own identity, she must first discover what it means to be both Chinese and British.
PP Wong has delivered a unique and realistic young adult drama that is bursting with original content style and emotion.
The Life Of A Banana Extract
Chapter 1 – Death of a Chef Man
“Just be glad that cat is in a better place. If this were Guangdong,
she’d be in a peasant’s belly by now.”
“That’s s-o-o-o racist.”
“I can’t be racist to my own race. Mama said it ain’t
“I don’t remember Mama ever saying that.”
“Well, Mama did.”
I’m not sure if my brother Lai Ker is right, but Mama isn’t
here any more. She’s in heaven with Papa and my ancient
cat Meow Meow. Grandma forced me to give Meow Meow
to the RSPCA — she’s twenty years old and I know what
happens to old pets. Grandma told me she had to go ’cos she
was “dirty”, “smelly” and “carrying millions and millions of
germs”. She also said I couldn’t keep my Bart Simpson clock
with the dent on his forehead. Lai Ker is allowed to bring
his Xbox, but only after we clean it with baby wipes. But
he can’t bring any of the big-leafed plants he grows in his
room and sells to his mates ’cos Grandma’s two gardeners
are already really busy.
We didn’t always live with Grandma. For twelve years,
I lived in a cosy trio — Mama, Lai Ker and me. We were
the Kwans of 187C Kilburn Road — the British Chinese
family who played loud pop music and spoke with cockneyChinese
accents. Lai Ker was more cockney; Mama was
more Chinese and I was something in between. We only saw
Grandma, Auntie Mei and strange Uncle Ho once a year ’cos
Mama said Grandma was a super busy lady and didn’t have
time for us. Every time we saw Grandma she wouldn’t talk to
Mama unless it was to complain.
“Why you not put more soy sauce in fish? It taste like
“Your kitchen so dirty, rats must be having disco here
“Your flat too small — only fit in midgets.”
Mama would just ignore Grandma, and carry on as if
Grandma wasn’t there. I asked Mama why she never fought
back and she said that when people fight it means they care.
Mama always tried to teach me what was right or wrong. She
told me lots of things like how I must never leave any rice
on my plate, if I did I would get giant spots on my cheeks for
every grain of rice left. Also, I should always leave the plastic
on TVs, mobile phones and sofas ’cos they last longer that
way. But I’m never gonna know what Mama thinks about
anything any more ’cos Mama is not here. Mama is gone
forever and there’s nothing I can do about it.
Mama died on my twelfth birthday.
It was raining lots. But it wasn’t the normal half-hearted
London rain that can’t make up its mind if it’s heavy or not.
London rain usually bugs you enough so that you need an
umbrella but it’s not heavy enough to run through and have
fun with, and you definitely can’t play “dodge the thunder
and lighting”. The kind of rain that happened on my birthday
was the sort of rain that made us feel like our roof might
collapse. It was fun and loud and kind of scary.
Sitting round an old oil heater, I opened my presents wrapped
in cool paper that had Rudolf the red nose reindeer printed all
over it. I got a computer game from Mama and some Toblerone,
with a bite taken from Lai Ker. I was super excited when
Mama suddenly brought out a small chocolate cake. We only
got the expensive, yummy, chocolately stuff on our birthdays.
Mama looked at the time and tutted about how quickly the
day had passed. Grandma, Auntie Mei and strange Uncle Ho
would arrive soon. She started to panic loads ’cos we didn’t
have any candles. Mama always wanted things to be super
perfect when they arrived. When Mama panicked, she would
run up and down tutting and flapping her arms like those mad
Chinese Opera singers. Lai Ker called her “Melodramama”.
Mama quickly grabbed her old, floral umbrella and rushed
into the rain.
The time was 4:23pm.
I remember the time ’cos she kept repeating Grandma was
going to be here in seven minutes and she was never late.
“Aiyah! It’s 4:23pm. Grandma will be here soon. It’s
4:23pm already! I need to get the candles.”
Mama ran into the thunderstorm to get the dreaded candles.
On the way to the newsagent, she passed Xiong Mao Chinese
restaurant. Mama often sneaked into the back kitchens of this
restaurant to scrounge free food from her friend, chef Andy
Cheung. Lai Ker gave Maths tuition for Andy Cheung’s tenyear-old
son and the free food was the chef’s way of repaying
the favour. Chinese people call this Guanxi, which basically
means “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”
Mama would do her usual tug of war ritual with Andy
Cheung. It would start off with Mama being all embarrassed
when Andy Cheung gave her MASSIVE portions. Since
it was my birthday I’m sure they would have been more
massive than usual. He was nice like that. Mama as usual
would ask for smaller portions; Andy Cheung would push
the cartons of food back to her and she would push them back
again saying the portions were too big.
Push food forward, push food back, push food forward,
push food back.
The ritual would last for about three minutes until Andy
Cheung would finally open Mama’s bag, force the food in
and nudge her out of the door. She always did that ritual with
Andy Cheung. I don’t know how long the ritual lasted that
day but it wasn’t the reason why Mama died. Lai Ker said it
was, but I know the truth, Mama did not die ’cos of the stupid
tug of war ritual.
Mama died ’cos it was my birthday.
If it weren’t my birthday, Mama wouldn’t have gone out
to get the candles. She wouldn’t have passed Andy Cheung’s
restaurant and dropped in to get a birthday treat for me. Then
she wouldn’t have had to do the stupid tug of war ritual with
Andy Cheung next to the cheap oven that the owners of the
restaurant refused to repair. Then she would have been far
away from Andy Cheung’s kitchen when the oven exploded.
Then her photo wouldn’t have been on the front page of the
local newspaper. Then I wouldn’t have spent my twelfth
birthday in a morgue.
Mama died ’cos it was my birthday. She died ’cos of me.
Chapter 2 – Four Wus and a Funeral
Mama died on a Friday and the funeral was on the Monday.
Lai Ker said Monday funerals were twenty percent cheaper
than Saturday funerals. Grandma chose a beautiful white
church with huge stained glass windows. It looked more
pricey than any of the other religious buildings on offer. The
church was decorated with yellow roses — Mama’s favourite.
Auntie Mei got her friend who did celebrity weddings to
arrange the flowers. I thought the flowers with giant diamante
ribbons made the church look too happy. Lai Ker said the
“major bling” was giving him a headache. Before the service,
I found five empty bottles of Tiger Beer in his room hidden
by a pile of messy takeaway cartons.
It was a closed casket service. Auntie Mei said Mama’s
charred body would be too upsetting for the countless friends
who had come to say goodbye. I know what she meant. The
image of Mama’s blackened body had been forced right to
the back of my mind, but it liked to appear when I closed my
eyes to sleep. Mama’s once sparkly eyes were gaping holes
and her tanned flesh was tarred black.
She wasn’t Mama any more; she was just a black, horrible
The 200-seated church was stuffed full of old school
friends, neighbours and even my childhood postman. Grandma
placed a half-page advert in The Times to invite anyone who
had ever known Mama. It was weird seeing the fish and chip
shop owner and our bin man at the funeral.
Grandma sat through the service with a really frozen look
on her face. She did not weep, she did not cry, she did not let
one teardrop fall. I saw her glance at her wristwatch twice.
Once, during Mama’s good friend Mrs Alsanea’s poem, and
also when Mama’s primary school friend, Maggie Chin, told
the story of when Mama let her stay on the sofa during her
divorce. When I saw Grandma looking at her watch I hated
Auntie Mei bit her lip a couple of times and gripped her
handbag tightly through the whole service. She did not cry
either. But after the service I caught her crying loads and
loads in the car park behind the bins. All I could see were
her red nailed hands going up and down as they covered her
face. Auntie Mei always tried to be nice to Lai Ker and me
but found it hard when it came to chatting to us. Lai Ker said
it was ’cos she was one of those people that doesn’t know
what to do with kids ’cos she only ever talked to grown ups.
When it was time for everyone to say goodbye to Mama,
tons of people were crying. I saw the Pakistani lady from our
local newsagent wipe a couple of tears. It felt really strange that
the woman I bought Mars bars from was crying over Mama.
It didn’t feel real at all.
Grandma and Auntie Mei went up to say goodbye together.
They were both pale and looked like ghosts walking
in slow motion. Grandma didn’t look at the coffin or even
touch it. She looked in a daze and just walked past it. Auntie
Mei followed before returning to get Uncle Ho. He refused
to go up to the coffin. She tried to make him but it was like
his ginormous bum was stuck with Velcro to the chair. She
pulled on his arm and he’d go up a little bit then down again,
up a little bit more, then down again.
“I’m fine, you go ahead.”
“Ho, are you sure?”
“I’m fine, you go ahead.”
“You have to say goodbye to your sister. Come on?”
“I’m fine, you go ahead.”
“This is the last time you are going to see her. Please come
with me to say goodbye.”
“I’m fine, you go ahead.”
Later, when Mama’s coffin was put into the ground, Uncle
Ho shut his eyes tightly and put his hand to his forehead. I
saw tears rolling down his unshaven cheeks. His face was
screwed up tight like someone had given him a bitter pill to
swallow along with his other meds. He stayed like this for
a good ten minutes. Uncle Ho was the only person in the
crowds of people who did not walk up to the coffin and say
goodbye. I wish I could have done the same but I wanted
to be brave for Mama. I told Lai Ker to go up first and he
propped himself up against me to stand. He complained of
feeling sick and rubbed his temples loads. I watched him
walk to the coffin in a zigzagged way. He almost knocked
over the pastor on his way to the coffin and did not stop to
say sorry. The coffin was patted speedily and he leaned on
a flower arrangement that came crashing to the floor. There
was a big gasp from the crowd of people. Grandma marched
him back to his seat and he leaned his head on my shoulder. I
could smell the alcohol on his breath. I wanted to tell him off
for making a fool of himself at Mama’s funeral and to start
behaving. I wanted to tell him I needed him to be strong. I
wanted to tell him he was all I had left. But my sorrow had
gobbled up all my words.
I made myself walk up to the coffin.
My insides twisted so painfully and my legs became so
wobbly I thought I might collapse. I tried to concentrate on
each step and counted from one to ten over and over again.
My heart was hurting so much and everything in the room
became dead quiet. Mama used to say, “I love you forever
and a week,” that way I knew she loved me every day of
the week not just one day. I remember thinking, “She’s not
here, not for today or tomorrow or the day after that. Mama
When I put my hand on her coffin, everything was blurry
and I could feel the tears falling on my lips. I patted her coffin
one last time and whispered my final goodbye.
“Bye Bye Mama. I love you forever and a week.”
About PP Wong
PP Wong was born in London. Her parents, both Chinese and originally from Singapore, moved between London and Asia during her childhood. She experienced prejudice throughout her schooling in the UK. PP Wong worked as an actress for six years, with her first job aged 15 when she was cast as ‘Screaming Vietnamese girl’ in a James Bond film. Other work includes performing in lead roles at the Soho Theatre in Moonwalking in Chinatown and BBC Radio 4’s play Avenues of Eternal Peace about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. PP Wong is now a writer and is also editor of www.bananawriters.com, a platform to encourage new East Asian and South East Asian writers with thousands of readers from over 30 different countries.