A powerful new novel about an ordinary family facing extraordinary times at the start of the Chinese Cultural Revolution
China, 1957. Chairman Mao has declared a new openness in society: “Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend.” Many intellectuals fear it is only a trick, and Kai Ying’s husband, Sheng, a teacher, has promised not to jeopardize their safety or that of their young son, Tao. But one July morning, just before his sixth birthday, Tao watches helplessly as Sheng is dragged away for writing a letter criticizing the Communist Party and sent to a labor camp for “reeducation.”
A year later, still missing his father desperately, Tao climbs to the top of the hundred-year-old kapok tree in front of their home, wanting to see the mountain peaks in the distance. But Tao slips and tumbles thirty feet to the courtyard below, badly breaking his leg.
As Kai Ying struggles to hold her small family together in the face of this shattering reminder of her husband’s absence, other members of the household must face their own guilty secrets and strive to find peace in a world where the old sense of order is falling. Once again, Tsukiyama brings us a powerfully moving story of ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances with grace and courage.
Tsukiyama takes us into China when communism is in full force. We are given a glimpse into the lives of one particular family, whose home once would have been considered luxurious, but now after the new laws have been put in place, they struggle to keep food on the table. The chapters alternate between the various characters being told in third person.
I usually enjoy stories from this time period when the author takes us into the characters everyday struggles. Something was missing from this novel for me though. I can't say that I particularly enjoyed any of the characters or felt a special closesness or bond with them. I also don't think the plot within the story itself was strong enough to want me to come back for more after I just closed my book for the day.
Life for everyone living within the villa became a hardship after Sheng, the breadwinner of the household, was taken away as a prisoner of the new Republic of China. Everyone had new responsibilities and duties that were easily performed by Sheng in the past. Young Tao has his own struggles after he falls out of a tree and breaks his leg. This becomes a changing point for his life as he realizes things at home are not as they seem and life at school will never be the same.
All the characters in this novel carry their own burdens, but the one that I sympathize with most would probably be Wei. Wei is Sheng's father and has held a secret deep in his heart since the day they took his son away. One day Wei can no longer take the shame he feels that he has placed on his son's shoulders, and embarks on a journey to set things right.
As I indicated earlier, all the characters have their own crosses to bear, but I just didn't feel a connection to any of them. Maybe I just missed something or was in the wrong frame of mind when reading this novel. With themes of communism, China, family, and honor, you may enjoy this book more than I did.
My Rating: 3/5
Disclosure: This ebook was provided to me by the publisher through the Netgalley program in exchange for an honest review.