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Leaving Mother Lake: A Girlhood at the Edge of the World
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Leaving Mother Lake: A Girlhood at the Edge of the World

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  1,468 ratings  ·  208 reviews
This widely acclaimed memoir transports us to the remote reaches of the Himalayas, to a place the Chinese call "the country of daughters," to the home of the Moso, a society in which women rule. According to local tradition, marriage is considered a foreign practice; property is passed from mother to daughter; a matriarch oversees each family's customs, rituals, and ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published February 10th 2004 by Back Bay Books (first published 2003)
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Diane I hadn't really ever thought of a matriarchal society; however, I believe the people of Moso were that. The Country of Daughters values girls over…moreI hadn't really ever thought of a matriarchal society; however, I believe the people of Moso were that. The Country of Daughters values girls over boys and the women are in charge of the homes and properties and run the households. They also determine which if any, men they will take as lovers and in effect how many children they will have. It's a very unique and interesting culture and completely unlike any other I have studied.(less)

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Dec 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
This autobiography is certainly different. Not just in the cultural matrilineal context but in the voice of the speaker, Namu. I don't believe that in all my years of reading, and in anthropological or any Asian ethnology or even in fiction, have I come across a female as nervy, bombastic, and frankly egotistical. Others might see it differently or perceive only some form of sparkling personality from the get-go, but I still think she is highly unusual. For any culture. And not only in her ...more
sssnoo reads
I took months to read the first 10% of this book and I don’t know why. I read the last 90% this week and the memoir is in the top 10 books I have read in 2019. It is in the top 5 memoirs I have ever read. Why? Namu is one of the most unique women I have ever encountered. She stood out among her people and culture and stands out among women in general. She gives us a remarkable vision of the Moso (Mosuo) ethnic minority from the Luguhu Lake region bordering Yunnan and Sichuan provinces in China. ...more
Aug 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
The Moso (also spelled Mosuo) are a small minority who live in southern China near Tibet. They are famous for the unique relationship between the sexes practiced by most groups. Women manage not just the household but the domestic economy (and work) while men are often away trading or herding yaks. The women of a family reside in the same house, each with a separate room where they receive visits from men they are free to choose; relationships are usually transitory, and jealousy is discouraged. ...more
Perhaps matriarchy is not what we expect, one of Mathieu's professors points out. What we call matriarchal culture is usually more accurately matrilineal culture, which is neither inherently matriarchal nor egalitarian. He thinks the difference lies mainly in that patrilinial societies accept the domination of women by their fathers and husbands and in matrilineal society they are bullied by uncles and brothers.
This problemitizaion of viewing the Moso people's seemingly female-driven culture
Nov 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Yang Erche Namu grew up in an isolated area of the Himalayas where relationships play out rather differently than most of the world considers to be the norm. For the Moso (also spelled Mosuo), matriarchs rule, and individual couples do not move into houses of their own; instead, male lovers visit their female lovers at night for as long as both are amenable, and all children stay with their mother.

Not a ton has been written about the Moso, and this is the only memoir that I know of by somebody
Mar 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Terianne Petzold
Shelves: 2008-books-read
I first learned of Chinese pop singer Namu when she was quoted in the New York Times as offering to marry French President Nicolas Sarkozy. So, I Googled her and this book was a prominent mention there, and in a recent New York Times profile.
This is a fascinating look at an old Chinese-Tibetan ethnic group so isolated Namu writes of dirt floors, and the pig living in the courtyard (before he's slaughtered and eaten - every bit). And this was the 1960s.
The Moso is an ethnic group that has a
Sep 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is the most interetsing culture I have ever heard about! The Moso are a Chinese minority near the Sichuan / Yunnan provinces border who have a matrilineal society, where property is handed down through female lines. There is no marriage, but men go to visit their lovers at their house and then leave in the morning. If a woman wants to end the relationship, she hangs his pack near the front gate as a message. Children are raised in the mother's house with their uncles as the male presence.
Jan 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
this was an amazing story. i gave it four stars because i did not find the writing all that great. but the story is incredible and a real inspiration. about a young girl from Moso country, a matrilinial society. the concepts in this woman's culture were so hard for me to imagine actually existing - a culture in which, for instance, young women have sex and babies with various men (of their choosing), and then let them know when they don't feel like seeing them again. a culture where men never ...more
Apr 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, kindle
Wow, this was fascinating stuff. A teenage girl from China's minority Mosu culture, where women take lovers instead of marrying and everyone lives in extended matrilineal households, leaves for the bright lights of urban China to become a singer in the '80s. It’s refreshing, because she LOVES the outside world – cars! Hot showers! Fashion magazines! But she also has great love and affection for her home, and is able finally to move between them. Usually this kind of narrative ends with the ...more
Audrey Chin
Oct 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Some books just capture you with content. This is how it was when I opened the pages of Leaving Mother Lake.

I read this book just before a trip to Lugu Lake, the Country of Women where Yang Erche Namu grew up. It brought the culture alive for me;)

It has been said that Yang Erche exoticized the lifestyle of the Mosuo. Indeed, it's true, there is much less of the traditional "walking marriage" lifestyle she writes about. Nonetheless, I thought the book provided a very good background to the still
Karen Floyd
Apr 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
A fascinating look at the life of a particular young girl in a unique matrilinear culture, and her relationaship with her mother. The Moso are a matrilinear society, NOT matriarchal, which is a completely different concept. Property and the home pass from mother to daughter, and the sons and daughters remain in the home of their mothers, so, while there are no "fathers," there are brothers cousins and uncles. The elders of the family, of both genders, make the decisions, but the home and all the ...more
Feb 02, 2013 rated it liked it
It took me quite a while to 'get' into this story. Once I realized it was non-fiction I did better. I had it on my Nook and didn't realize it was a memoir of a young Moso woman. Honestly, I had no idea these people existed and was totally unfamiliar with their culture. Namu tells the story of her life in this odd, matriarchial world of the Moso. I found it funny how the Chinese have tried to understand them and have looked for ways to bring them into the Chinese way of living. Her story is a ...more
May 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: recently-read
This was read on my memoir kick this year. I LOVE this story! I LOVE this community - a matrilinear community on the edge of China / Tibet. Men live with their mothers, and the women are the heart of the community. Sisters are indeed doing it for themselves! I can see this little village in my head, I am desperate to go and visit it. The story of the village alone was enough to keep me up at night. However, the "real" story is about the girl who started as a villager and ended as a world famous ...more
Jan 12, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: china, 2011
An interesting account of a little-known minority of Western China--a matrilineal society that does not believe in marriage and maintains a strong, family-based society instead of a marriage-based one. I enjoyed Namu's journey from remote mountains to Shanghai. I also highly recommend that people read the afterword, as Christine Matheiu explains further how the people of the Moso culture live and work. A good read.
Sylvia Tedesco
Jun 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
There is no marriage, but men go to visit their lovers at their house and then leave in the morning. If a woman wants to end the relationship, she hangs his pack near the front gate as a message. Children are raised in the mother's house with their uncles as the male presence.
I was a little slow to get into this true story and then I was completely involved and spent the day finishing it. It has the glow of reality to it and you can feel almost how it is to live in a matrilineal family that is
Christel Keijzer
Jul 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
An interesting glimpse into lives led in Southern China province, of country life on the border of Sichuan and Yunnan, where the Moso and Naxi people live. Through the eyes of a young woman who fled her life to become a renown singer.
Jennifer Page
Jun 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book goes on my short list of "Non-fiction I have loved." (I actually didn't realize it was a memoir when I picked it up -- if I had I might not have read it!) I found it on a list of 50 books by women of color (…/i-read-50...). I LOVED this book. It's about a woman born into the Moso peoples -- I'm not good at geography but I place them somewhere in between Tibet and China. One of the remarkable things about the Moso is that marriage is not part of their culture. ...more
Sep 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
A really fascinating biography that is almost unbelievable in this day and age. It is the story of a young girl coming of age in the 70's in an unusual society in the Himalayas - a society run by women who control the households, pass property to daughters, make all the important decisions, consider marriage inconvenient and unnecessary... The women take many lovers, but live with none, in order to produce more daughters. (Hmmmm, maybe not such a bad idea...).
The author was a stubborn and
Jan 25, 2013 rated it liked it
Highly recommended. In the afterword the co-author claims that the Moso minority group are not matriarchial merely matrilineal but their familial arrangements are fascinating and according to Yang Erche Namu's account their cultural mores seem to really work in avoiding a lot of the ills common the the rest of the world such as sexual jealousy, break-down of the family unit due to infidelity and divorce, teenage sexual experimentation. Could it ever work in a rich modern society?
Aug 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is the memoir of a girl who grew up near the Himalayas in southwest China in a region with a culture unlike any other in the world: their society is matrilineal, there is no marriage, and women sleep with as many people as they wish, with nothing negative attached. Her story is fascinating, and the writing is very evocative of the region. (I really felt I was there in the freezing cold, trying to warm up by holding my legs under yaks while they pee.)

As both a memoir and cultural snapshot of a little known people in southern China, known as the Moso, this book is a treasure. As in all well done memoirs, it has emotional immediacy and honesty. Although Yang Erche Namu is now only 44 years old, her experience spans a remarkable childhood among a people untouched by western modernity to her current life in the United States. I loved reading this book and highly recommend it.
Jun 13, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: biography
I felt really interested in this book by the cover and I found it interesting to read about a culture so different from ours. It was interesting to read how she "discovered" the world, but at the same time I found the language and the text somewhat flat. It was a story, but not a story that grabbed me.
Dec 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Yang Erche Namu's story is a unique adventure. By all standards, she had an extraordinary childhood. The Mosu tribe, itself, has a distinct lifestyle from China and neighboring tribes, yet, within their defined community, Namu and her mother break from the tradition of their own culture. They are outliers of the outliers! How fortunate for the world that circumstances aligned to unite Christine Mathieu, anthropologist, and Yang Erche Namu so that Namu's story could be shared.

Mathieu and Namu's
Jane E
Nov 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: chinese, non-fiction
This is a fascinating book and supposedly a true memoir which is why it seems strange that the publisher's detail page includes the statement "The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.". The same page categorizes the work as "biography" amongst other things and the author has a Wikipedia page where her life sounds just like the one described in this book. What the hell?

Others have
Mar 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
An autobiography of a girl who is of Mosu heritage, growing up in a remote part of China in a society which is matrilineal in nature. There are no fixed marriages between men and women; instead, women have bedrooms of their own and their lovers visit them at night. Namu grows up with her mother, sisters, aunts and brothers with most of the men of the family doing work further away - herding yaks and travelling. This is at a time after the communist revolution and there are periods when Red ...more
Priscilla Herrington
Nov 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Yang Erche Namu is a professional singer; she comes from the Moso (Mosuo) tribe of the Yunnan Province of China, along its Tibetan border. The Moso are considered the world's last matriarchy.

Namu grew up in this remote area, sometimes living on a mountainside with her uncle herding the tribe's yaks. From this remote place, she traveled, ultimately to Shanghai Beijing, singing her native songs, winning competitions and a place as a student in the Shanghai Music Conservatory. Her personal story is
Jul 15, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, travel
This was an interesting read, although as a memoir I had to take it with a grain of salt. It's a fascinating look at life in a part of the world I hardly knew existed: the Lake Lugu region of the Himalayan Yunnan province of southern China. Namu left her home to become an actor and singer in Shanghai, Bejing, and abroad, but she paints a detailed picture of the Moso people: matriarchal, peaceful, a culture that depends on keeping to traditional practices. Namu's individualism appears to have ...more
Liesje Leest
May 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book gives a great insight in the culture of the Moso people and their unique way of life. I know Namu is a bit of a controversial person and the book is telling you her life story through here eyes, it's not an academic study on the Moso, so it will be very biased, but it's entertaining and I'd still say it's informative for people who want to know more about this culture but don't want to dive into heavy literature. Besides the stories of her childhood at Lugu Lake I also enjoyed reading ...more
Jacob Roberts
May 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
It was a bit hard for me to get into this book. Once I got about halfway I really enjoyed it. What an interesting life she has led, and in such recent years. I’m glad I had something to read about China that was more rural and mysterious than what I’ve read thus far. These people were virtually untouched during the reign of Mao, and had such a different (mostly indifferent) outlook on the communist party coming to full power. — I always love reading about people’s journey in finding and living ...more
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Yang Erche Namu is a Chinese writer and singer of Moso ethnicity.