Spotlight on The Girl Who Taught Herself to Fly by Kwan Kew Lai


Congratulations to Kwan Kew Lai and Vine Leaves Press on the release of The Girl Who Taught Herself to Fly, a "poignant memoir" that "portrays a world few of us can imagine." ~Abraham Verghese, Cutting for Stone

The Girl Who Taught Herself to Fly by Kwan Kew Lai
Memoir / Creative Nonfiction
From $6.49  

Kwan Kew Lai met her first Punjabi woman doctor while lying in a hospital bed with a severe kidney infection at the age of fourteen. Watching the woman walk away down the hall, Kwan Kew was convinced she could, and would, carve out her own destiny.

In the British Straits Settlement of Penang Island, she was born into an impoverished Chinese family of two boys and ten girls on the cusp of the Japanese occupation during World War Two. She did not wish to repeat the life of her uneducated mother, burdened with an endless brood, nor tolerate the fact that her father considered girls useless since they could not carry on their family name.

The newly independent country of Malaya developed a national policy favoring one racial group, the Bumiputras, vastly diminishing her chance of receiving a university scholarship. Her fortuitous introduction to a free library and her determination to continue her education led to the opportunity of a lifetime: a scholarship from Wellesley College.

When her father saw her off at the Penang International Airport as the first child to attend college, she proved herself to him, but more importantly she started the journey of a lifetime fulfilling dreams that originated as a young girl playing in the mud with the chickens.

In The Girl Who Taught Herself to Fly, the author weaves in her family’s story of joy, sorrow, loss, love, and endless struggles with poverty and hunger. This poignant memoir, with universal and timeless themes, will leave you in awe.

Praise for The Girl Who Taught Herself to Fly
"A thoughtful consideration of the ways women and girls survive—and even thrive—within oppressive patriarchal systems that refuse to recognize them as full people." ~Victoria Namkung, NBC News

"This poignant memoir, beautifully written and filled with humor and pathos, portrays a world few of us can imagine." ~Abraham Verghese, Cutting for Stone

"Her story demonstrates what can be achieved—against all odds—with a strong intention and fierce, unrelenting determination." ~Erica M. Elliott, MD, speaker and author

About Kwan Kew Lai
Originally from Penang, Malaysia, Kwan Kew Lai received a full scholarship from Wellesley College. She is a Harvard Medical Faculty Physician. In 2005, she left academia to dedicate time to humanitarian work in HIV/AIDS in Africa, and she provides disaster relief all over the world, including during the Ebola outbreak, the Syrian Rohingya refugee crises, and the COVID-19 pandemic in New York and the Navajo Nation. Her debut Lest We Forget: A Doctor’s Experience with Life and Death During the Ebola Outbreak chronicles her time in Liberia and Sierra Leone caring for Ebola patients. Into Africa, Out of Academia: A Doctor's Memoir came out in 2020. To learn more, visit

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