Friday, August 17, 2012


Story Description: 

St. Martin’s Press|August 7, 2012|Hardcover|ISBN: 978-0-312-27481-8 

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 “re-education.” 

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, Gail Tsukiyama brings us a powerfully moving story of ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances with grace and courage. 

My Review: 

Magnificent story!  Kai Ying, Sheng and his father, Wei, live together along with Kai Ying and Sheng’s young son, Tao.  It is China, 1957 when Chairman Mao declares a new openness and honesty in society.  He says: “Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend.”  Many people think it is just a trick and Kai Ying makes her husband promise not to get involved in any way.  Sheng, a teacher,  promises that he would never do anything to jeopardize their family.  Tao loves his father dearly and Kai Ying worries what he would do without him. 

Then just before Tao’s sixth birthday, on a hot July morning, Sheng is dragged away to a prison camp for supposed “re-education” for writing a letter criticizing and condemning the Communist Party.  Kai Ying, Wei and little Tao are beside themselves with grief and worry. 

One day little Tao decides to climb high up into the kapok tree that stands outside their family home.  He wanted to see the peaks of the mountains when he suddenly slips and falls thirty feet to hard concrete courtyard below.  His leg has been severely broken and he spends time in hospital as well as a long recuperation time at home.  Once the cast comes off he is left with a limp and when he returns to school he is teased terribly by former friends and it breaks heart.  His mother, Kai Ying is so upset for him and doesn’t know how to help him. 

While they were sitting in the hospital the day Tao broke his leg, Kai Ying notices a young girl about fifteen-years-old who was obviously pregnant and who had terrible acne.  Kai Ying felt very sorry for the girl and watched her off and on as she was thinking about what herbs and potions she could mix together to help the girl with her acne.  Kai Ying was the town herbalist and worked from her home.  Each morning she had people lined up at her courtyard gate waiting for the chance to talk with Kai Ying and tell her what their ailments where so she could make up something for a cure. 

A few months later on a rainy and stormy night this girl shows up at Kai Ying’s door in labour.  She had followed her home from the market several times so knew where she lived.  Kai Ying brings her into the house the delivers her baby on a rug in their living room.  Not having the heart to put the young girl out on the street, she allows the girl to stay with them and ends up teaching her about her herbal remedies. 

As if all this wasn’t bad enough, she has only had two letters from her husband, Sheng in an entire year!  A shadow of fear is always behind her and she struggles with wonder as to whether Sheng is still even alive. 

Each of these family members must try to carry forward and continue on with their lives the best they can, even though they are uncertain about their future and are wracked with their own guilt and painful secrets. 

Gail Tsukiyama has done it once again.  This was a powerfully written story.  I’ve read every novel she has written and have never been disappointed and this one was no different.  I seriously hope there will be a sequel to this story so we can find out conclusively what happens to all the characters in the novel.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone.  Thank you Ms. Tsukiyama for another most enjoyable read!! 

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