Grafton Public Library

Review: A Hundred Flowers by Gail Tsukiyama

Posted by bethg on

A Hundred Flowers bookcoverWhat could be more refreshing to a reader than an historical, cross-cultural novel that’s fast and easy to read? Gail Tsukiyama has done it again in A Hundred Flowers. The author became known to me last year in the powerful Women of Silk, and she has followed up with an equally impressive work.

Set in 1957 China, A Hundred Flowers refers to Chairman Mao’s admonition that there be a new intellectual openness where ideas could flourish. Unfortunately, that was a ruse to identify dissidents who were arrested and sent to far-off labor camps for re-education.

This is the situation in the home of Kai Ling, an herbalist in the village of Guangzhou, China. Her husband Seng was arrested for writing a letter perceived to be anti-government, and she has heard little from him since he was sent away.

Kai Ling lives with her young son Tao, her father-in-law Wei and a family friend Auntie Song, and they pass each day together awaiting word from Sang.

The characters take turns narrating the story from their own perspective, and it is clear that each of them is suffering in their own way, some of it guilt. They long for the happy days of the past and look forward hopefully to the future, but the present is not that easy to endure.

To add to the turmoil in the home that Kai Ying has to manage, Wei falls from the kapok tree and has serious injuries. All the family members aid in his recovery by making special medicinal soups, reading to him and in general trying to keep his spirits up. He doesn’t understand why his father has been away so long.

In addition another character appears who has her own set of problems–-Suying. She is very young, starving, homeless and pregnant. Although this event could add more turmoil to this embattled family, the baby generates a caring attitude among all the family members and diverts their attention from
their own problems.

Because of the author’s previous work, I was not surprised at how deep this deceptively simply stated book is. It somehow gently points out the tribulations everyone goes through to one degree or another and learning how to cope with them.

It’s time to smell the flowers–A Hundred Flowers.

I give the book 4 herbal teas.

Happy reading from Beverly!

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