Monday, January 16, 2012
Review: All the Flowers in Shanghai by Duncan Jepson
Author: Duncan Jepson
Who Should Read It? If you like books about China, I'd say this book is a must. Do yourself a favor, though, and don't read most of the reviews out there. After write mine, I went and read a couple, and they are just FILLED with things you don't need to know before going into it. If you're into China, or just books about China like I am, I'd head over to pick yourself up a copy as soon as possible!
What I Have to Say:
While I've never really had all that much interest in China (I've always been more of a Japan girl), I have this weird fascination with books about China. I LOVE reading about Chinese history and Red China and Mao Tse Tung and foot binding and, well, if it involves Chinese history in any way, I want to, have to read it! So I of course jumped at the opportunity to review Duncan Jesper's first novel, All the Flowers in Shanghai.
And mostly, I wasn't disappointed. This story, written in letter format, is the tragic tale of a Chinese woman, Xiao Feng, whose life, via some pretty unexpected circumstances, takes a turn for the worse and doesn't go according to plan. At all. It's about the choices, both bad and good, that she makes throughout her life, and how they affect her. It's about how the communist regime swept in and affected the priveleged before they could even notice a change, and thus the story of how communism changes Xiao Feng and causes her to look back on her choices.
This book takes a close look at all of the good, the bad, and the ugly that was China in between the times of foot binding and communism. It's a passionate story of hate and learning what love is, the love between a mother and daughter, between a mother and son. But it's also a tragic story of things lost forever due to bad choices and heart-wrenching sacrifices. It is beautifully written and will warm your heart while at the same time making it feel somewhat icy cold.
The thing I liked most about this book was that, from the beginning to the end, it took me places that I wasn't expecting to go. And it's to the point story-telling allowed me to catch a real glimpse of what life must have been like for elite women in China, whose sole purpose, it seems, was to have an heir. The prose was simple, but the imagery of lifestyle was vivid, and nothing was spared.
What I didn't like so much was the lack of vividity in the descriptions. In a sense, it was fitting. The story was written in the form of a letter, and what Xiao Feng was seeing was, without a doubt, dulled by her life experiences. However, she was also surrounded by so much beauty, and I felt like Jepson's descriptive pose didn't really give that beauty the justice that it deserved. I would have liked to see a little bit more intricacy of description.
Also, because it was written as a letter, we only got the point of view of Xiao Feng. Sometimes, this work, but I feel like, in this case, the letter format occasionally led to some awkward phrasings and unnecessary side-notes that came out of nowhere and didn't really fit. I also felt like All the Flowers in Shanghai could have really benefited from multiple perspectives. As opposed to taking away from or changing Xiao Feng's story, I felt like it would have really added some heavy emotion to understand what the people around her were thinking.
All in all, a wonderful read that I definitely recommend. You won't be disappointed by this touching story of Xiao Feng, a woman trying to reconcile her past and move forward despite the bad choices that she made in the past.
All the Flowers in Shanghai is Jepson's stunning debut novel. Set in 1930s Shanghai,the Paris of the East, but where following the path of duty still takes precedence over personal desires, a young Chinese woman named Feng finds herself in an arranged marriage to a wealthy businessman. In the enclosed world of her new household-a place of public ceremony and private cruelty-she learns that, above all else, she must bear a male heir. Ruthless and embittered by the life that has been forced on her, Feng seeks revenge by doing the unthinkable. Years later, she must come to a reckoning with the decisions she has made to assure her place in family and society, before the entire country is caught up in the fast-flowing tide of revolution.
Cover Story: I have seen pretty much this EXACT cover WAY too many times - apparently all books about China need to have a beautiful Chinese lady in a sarong on the cover. Don't get me wrong, I like the cover, and if I saw it in a store, that would be enough to make me want to read the book, but I just feel like. . .eh, it's not very special.
Disclaimer: This book was sent to me for review by William Morrow. This in no way affected my review.