Ambitious and Americanized to her core, Billi believes that suppressing her grief and keeping the severity of Nai-Nai’s illness secret is wrong but — as the family reunion progresses — she begins to appreciate the intrinsic value not only of the deception but also of her Chinese culture/heritage.
Eastern philosophy underscores balance and harmony, minimizing conflict while emphasizing a collective consciousness. Which is why Billi’s family chooses not to reveal Nai-Nai’s medical condition.
Americans emphasize the individual, she’s told, while in China family always comes first. Billi’s uncle tells her: “You think one’s life belongs to one’s self.”
Originally, Lulu Wang’s bittersweet story was on TV’s “This American Life” (2016) and included interviews with family members — both before and after Nai-Nai outlived her original diagnosis.