Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Women of the Silk

A friend of mine recommended Gail Tsukiyama's books when I was looking for a good summer read. She said her style was similar to Snow Flower and the Secret Fan which I did enjoy. I got two of her books from the library ( this one and the sequel - The Language of Threads).

I wasn't real impressed with the first one, yet still want to read the second one. Weird, huh?

Women of the Silk is the story of Pei, a Chinese girl who lives in a rural village with her family in 1920s-30s China. She has a sister, and as girls are not of much value in China, she is sold to a silk factory in a city nearby as a young girl (maybe 8 years old). Her parents do not give her any advance notice, her father takes her on a trip one day and leaves her at the factory. She is dumbfounded and heartbroken.

As would be expected the demands on her in the silk factory are tough, but she is befriended some of the older more experienced workers. She forms a special bond with an older girl from a previously wealthy and powerful family named Lin. As the bond deepens, they decide to participate in a hairdressing ceremony as a symbol of their friendship to each other and their commitment never to marry.

At this point the story slows down a bit to develop the characters and their relationships. The women The Sino-Japanese War is starting to develop, but mostly in the background. As time goes on the factory is closed and the women of the factory are forced to

leave their village. Just before they leave a young girl arrives at the sister's house after her family was killed by the Japanese. They journey to Hong Kong which is where the story ends.

The book was relatively short, so despite my mild interest in the first one, I am looking forward to seeing what happens in the second. When I finished it I actually wondered why it was two books and not one, but then noticed that the sequel was published about 9 years later. I guess the author needed some time to figure out where to take the story next.

My criticisms of the book have a lot to do with the weak character development. With most books I usually have a pretty clear picture of the characters (at least the main ones), that was not the case with this book. I read a couple of reviews of the book after I finished it, and I thought it was interesting that many characterize Pei as a courageous person. I don't really see that. She puts up with a lot of hardship, but I don't see that as courage. Maybe in the next book as she becomes something of a mentor to Ji Shen, that may change.

Despite not feeling a strong draw to Pei in the first book, I am interested to see what awaits her in Hong Kong.

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