For every young Chinese woman in 1930s Shanghai, following the path of duty takes precedence over personal desires
For Feng, that means becoming the bride of a wealthy businessman in a marriage arranged by her parents. In the enclosed world of the Sang household—a place of public ceremony and private cruelty—fulfilling her duty means bearing a male heir.
The life that has been forced on her makes Feng bitter and resentful, and she plots a terrible revenge. But with the passing years comes a reckoning, and Feng must reconcile herself with the sacrifices and terrible choices she has made in order to assure her place in the family and society—even as the violent, relentless tide of revolution engulfs her country.
Both a sweeping historical novel and an intimate portrait of one woman’s struggle against tradition, All the Flowers in Shanghai marks the debut of a sensitive and revelatory writer.
Feng is forced to marry a man who was supposed to marry her sister, but after her death her parents didn’t want to lose face and she therefore was thrown into what would have been her sister’s future life.
The family was wealthy and she was unliked by her father-in-law’s first and second wives and often had to take very negative comments in stride without striking back. She was pressured to produce a male heir for the family but unfortunately her first child was a girl. Feng made the choice to do something that she would later come to regret for the rest of her life.
A few years later Feng did produce a boy but he was born with a deformed foot and her in-laws were not at all impressed and wanted nothing to do with the child. Feng through herself into motherhood, spending lots of time with her son and seeing that he was schooled and they enjoyed a very close relationship.
When her son was a bit older, a servant was hired just for him, but the girl was quite young. At first there weren’t any problems but then Feng saw the girl going into her husband’s room one day and assumed that this young servant and he were having an affair. At the same time she realized that her son and the servant were very friendly with one another. Feng was irate and assumed this young servant was having an affair with both her husband and her son. Her anger was all consuming and she beat the girl with a belt leaving a permanent scar down the side of the girls face.
Feng could no longer cope with her life and left her wealthy in-law home and took a train to Shanghai to look for the seamstress who had made her wedding dress. This was a time in China was there up an uprising and things were changing drastically. Everyone had photos of Chairman Mao up in their stores and homes and young people were taking over and holding get togethers to shout out the new politics. Feng ended up finding the woman who now managed a sewing sweatshop and she became employed there. Having brought nothing with her but the clothes on her back, the seamstress invited Feng to live with her but they were very, very poor. They had no heat and had to sleep together under one blanket each night huddled together to keep warm. Working at the sweatshop and trying to meet the demands of the large quotas everyday was taking its toll on her. Then there comes a reckoning in the end that Feng must accept.
This was a great novel which I read in one sitting and would highly recommend it to anyone. For a debut novel it was well written.