Review: Women of the Silk by Gail Tsukiyama
As much as I try to keep up with current fiction and some non-fiction, I am gratified when a truly fine book from the past comes to my attention. Such is the case with Women of the Silk, by Gail Tsukiyama. When this book was initially published in 1991, I recall a friend recommended it in passing. It wasn’t until I met a fellow patron recently at the hair salon reading it that it finally clicked.
There are many levels of enjoyment to this book. First, it is of a normal length with short chapters for easy reading. Secondly, the prose is somehow soothing and restful , even when events occur that are not pleasant. Lastly, the subject matter was a revelation to me about a culture I knew little about–a true learning experience.
The main character in Women of the Silk is Pei, a Chinese girl living with her family in a rural Chinese village. Her father tends the fish ponds and mulberry groves, and it is a hard life. If daughters were not promised in marriage, they became a burden to their families. In Pei’s case her father just took her on a trip one day and dropped her off at a silk factory without a backward glance.
As hard as it was to be so abruptly separated from the family, Pei made friendships with her co-workers and those who housed her and cared for her. She made enough money to send to her family which was the incentive to begin with.
Beginning in 1926, Women of the Silk follows Pei through the next 20 years of her life with the sisterhood. In addition to life in the silk factory, the author inserts some history of the Far East which I was unaware of. Apparently the Japanese were invading China at the time prior to World War 11 so that danger coupled with the demise of the silk factory made for great social change and flight to Hong Kong.
It is always a good feeling to read a book where the main character faces great adversity and perseveres with dignity and courage. Readers like me who missed the boat in 1991 have a treat in store.
I give the book 3 7/8 silkworms.
Happy reading from Beverly!