Thursday, February 2, 2012

Review: All the Flowers in Shanghai by Duncan Jepson

Paperback, 320 pages
Published December 20th 2011 by William Morrow Paperbacks
ISBN: 0062081608 (ISBN13: 9780062081605)
Set in 1930's Shanghai, this is the story of Feng, second daughter in a middle class, socially ambitious family. Through a quirk of fate, Feng is married off to her older sister's fiancé. Feng felt betrayed by her family and this feeling turned her from a naive, amiable teenaged girl into a bitter and resentful young woman obsessed with revenge for what was "done" to her. Such a drama queen!

After making her own life and that of those around her miserable, she then decides to put on a happy face, outwardly at least, and be more sociable. This is not from maturing or trying to be a decent human being; it was more to spite her mother-in-law and to get her own way.

"The beautiful quiet of my childhood had been interrupted forever, and like most people I did not notice its absence until it was too late. I learned to talk,eat chatter, and most seductive of all, found that I loved to be the center of attention. At the time I could sense the trap that Ma had laid for Sister but it was only now that I could see how delicious and irresistable it was. That Sister could have been no othr creature than the one Ma had created, for who could resist the lure of so much adulation?"

At this point, I began to feel sorry for her husband, Xiong Fa. He seemed to be a decent sort even though to save face he had been pushed into marrying Feng by his overbearing mother who kept reminding him of his duty to produce a male heir.

Eventually, her guilt at one of her most heinous actions begins to haunt her. It didn't seem to change her behavior too much and I still found it difficult to like her character. All of her unhappiness was of her own doing as she managed to alienate all around her.

Overall, an okay read, just not a stellar one, mainly due to Feng's unlikeability and the feeling that most of the supporting characters felt like nebulous beings; they were there but not fully fleshed out.

On a positive note, I did like the location, the time frame, Jepson's descriptions of the culture with it's sense of duty in a patriarchal society. Although the Japanese occupation in Shanghai was glossed over, the timeframe when the communists under Mao were in power was interesting. I think I liked the historical aspect at the end of the book the best.

At the back of the book are some discussion questions and suggestions for further reading.

Disclosure: A review copy of the book was provided by William Morrow through LT's early reviewer's
 program in exchange for my honest opinion.


  1. I like the cover and enjoyed reading your review, but will probably pass on this one. My tbr pile is already WAY too high!

  2. I've read similar reviews so you're not alone. I like the time period but like JoAnn, my tbr stack is more a mountain these days...

  3. Feng sounds pretty awful. I think I'll steer clear of this one.

  4. Most of the reviews I've read seem to agree with you. I may skip this one.

  5. I just did not like Feng! She was so outwardly cruel, and it didn't seem to make sense that she made the decision that she did regarding her child. Her reasoning was flawed, and I couldn't get over that.

  6. I'm passing on this one too! Thanks for the review!

  7. It is hard to overcome an unlikable main character...but it is a lovely cover.

  8. After reading several reviews from bloggers I respect like yourself, I've decided this book is not for me. I need to pass.

  9. Usually, I love all historical Asian book but not this one. When I read what the author wrote about his mother, I felt that he wrote this book to get back at her.

    It was the pretty cover that tricked me!

  10. I've read a lot of reviews like yours, so I'm going to pass on this one. I don't need to like the main character, but I do prefer well-developed supporting characters.

  11. I'm glad to know that I wasn't alone in not being able to like her enough to enjoy the book. I think the author went too extreme with her character and killed any feelings that the reader may have towards her.

  12. I've been attracted to the cover art at the bookstore but haven't purchased it yet. Now I'm glad I didn't. I have to like the main characters too.


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