Complicit by Winnie Li

Complicit is a novel that starts slow and burns bright. I am familiar with Winnie Li’s work as I had read Dark Chapter, which was an incisive page-turner on the fictionalised story of the author’s real-life trauma that happened in Ireland. What made it stand out is how Winnie told Dark Chapter from the point of view of the victim and perpetrator.  

In Complicit, Winnie played with many themes, significant and small, and I think it would be worth rereading it to catch the ones that could have been missed. She had a lot to say in the story on so many levels – misogyny, money power, racism, white privilege, 2nd generation immigrant trauma/experience, the illusion of Hollywood, and feminine powerlessness.

When I began Complicit and entered into the dull world of the protagonist, Chinese American Sarah Lai. I sighed. I wanted to be instantly transported into the magic of whatever ilk as long as it did not reflect the dreariness of our everyday life! Then I slowly got drawn in.  

Winnie Li
Winnie Li

Sarah Lai’s account of starting her career in the Film industry in New York and eventually becoming an associate producer sees-saws between the present and the past.   Hugo North is the Harvey Weinstein-like figure who was bankrolling the film in the production company where she worked.

It is definitely an #Metoo but more than this. This is where I applauded Winnie. She deftly showed us the struggles of the child of immigrants, the expectations and anxiety of those parents and their wish for their children to do well in their adopted country.  

Sarah’s drive toward her ambition ultimately found her in the politics and corruption of the film industry. Winnie reveals behind the scene Hollywood with skill and assured writing. It peels back the casual carelessness of white privilege and racism.

Here is a comment by her former boss Sylvia Zimmerman to the journalist doing the investigation

‘No one likes seeing ambition so visibly. Sarah was from that Chinese restaurant background of hers, so maybe there were some cultural….ways of being which were lost to her. Or maybe we’re just not used to seeing a young Asian woman in charge, so that kind of authority is harder to grant….regardless of her competence.’

There is a lot to take away from Complicit, and I fell in love with it. Winnie’s book excited me and laid bare the universal struggle of women worldwide. The fight to be recognised in our own right and not through the male gaze and power.  

I love the hope at the end that there is now more chance of diverse voices being heard and institutions created to catch young talent. It is definitely an optimistic hope for the future.

When a book resonates with you long after you put it down, you know it is something special.  

Complicit is definitely a critical work in this landscape.

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