Spellbinding, unforgettable, and an important chronicle of modern China.
Sisters Tiao and Fan grew up in the shadow of the Cultural Revolution where they witnessed ritual humiliation and suffering. In the China of the 1990s the sisters lead seemingly successful lives.
In 2006 Tie Ning was elected president of the Chinese Writers Association, becoming the youngest writer and first woman to be honoured in this way.
Translated into English. Paperback Novel.
This story begins with one of the central characters of the story Tiao. I was immediately pulled into the story which began in the present time but quickly went back to her childhood exploring the relationship between her parents and her mother's lover. Set in Beijing and then Fuan, during the Cultural Revolution, this story portrayed what it was like to grow up during such a time. For Tiao the crucial incident in her life that dictated all that was to follow was the birth and subsequent death at two years of her sister Quan. The circumstances surrounding Quan's birth and death were explored throughout the book and interwoven are other central characters such as Tiao's younger sister Fan and her mother's lover's niece Fei.
A crucial part of the narrative are Tiao's relationships as she gets older and her relationships not only with her sister and friends but with men in her life. The death of Quan, and Tiao's part in that by her almost subconscious decision to not attempt to prevent it, is explored in how one momentary decision can follow on to completely dominate the rest of your life and dictate the relationships with family and lover's. The relationship between Fan and Tiao is complex and like many sisters their relationship, no matter how strained, is always held together by the thread that is sisterhood. Whilst I found Fan's character unlikeable her character was formed somewhat by the death of Quan and her lack of understanding about the events that had led up to Quans death. Her experience of Quan was very different to the experience of her parents and Tiao and Fei so her character had developed based on a misunderstanding of events. When these events finally come out in the open the characters finally are able to move forward with their lives and an event, that had overshadowed all of their decisions for so long, was finally able to be put to rest.
I was totally engrossed with the first third of this book which primarily is around the events that led up to and followed Quan's death. When the narrative moves on to Tiao's early adulthood I felt the story was little disconnected and I struggled reading this a little. Thankfully I persevered and was drawn back in by the latter third of the book and really enjoyed the story following Tiao's relationship's with Mike and Chen Zai. Tiao's ability at the end to self reflect on her part in Quan's death and her own role in her relationships with those she loves was well written and so spot on. The authors ability to be able to tell the story and portray the relationships between the central characters in a way that leads to such a powerful conclusion certainly made this book worthwhile reading.
This book is probably best read in a few long bursts rather than lots of short ones and would make for an interesting book club read and discussion.
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 - 1882)