Paperback, 320 pages
Published December 20th 2011 by William Morrow PaperbacksSet 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