Friday, July 27, 2012

Opinion: A Hundred Flowers by Gail Tsukiyama

Hardcover, 304 pages
Expected publication: August 7th 2012 by St. Martin's Press
ISBN: 0312274815 (ISBN13: 9780312274818)
edition language : English

From the publisher

A powerful new novel about an ordinary family facing extraordinary times at the start of the Chinese Cultural Revolution

China, 1957. Chairman Mao has declared a new openness in society: “Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend.” Many intellectuals fear it is only a trick, and Kai Y ing’s husband, Sheng, a teacher, has promised not to jeopardize their safety or that of their young son, Tao. But one July morning, just before his sixth birthday, Tao watches helplessly as Sheng is dragged away for writing a letter criticizing the Communist Party and sent to a labor camp for “reeducation.”

A year later, still missing his father desperately, Tao climbs to the top of the hundred-year-old kapok tree in front of their home, wanting to see the mountain peaks in the distance. But Tao slips and tumbles thirty feet to the courtyard below, badly breaking his leg.

As Kai Ying struggles to hold her small family together in the face of this shattering reminder of her husband’s absence, other members of the household must face their own guilty secrets and strive to find peace in a world where the old sense of order is falling. Once again, Tsukiyama brings us a powerfully moving story of ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances with grace and courage.

My thoughts: When Mao instituted the 100 flowers campaign, the party invited thoughts from intellectuals and artists on ways to improve China and the party itself. Although the party had previously persecuted intellectuals and artists, Kai Ying's husband Sheng, thought this time it would be different so he responded in good faith and this act led to his downfall. He was dragged off to a labor camp to be "reeducated". This had not just a financial impact but also a deep emotional one on his wife, son and father.

Using several points of view, Tskukiyama presents a heartwrenching story of the day-to-day survival of Sheng's family. Kai Ying keeps busy with her herbalist patients and running the household. Tao has to recover from his accident and attend school and his father, Wei, has to live with his guilty secret, his sense of shame and loneliness. But, inside all three desperately miss Sheng in their own way.

"Kai Ying knew that being "reeducated" was like falling down a black hole. Some were never seen again, while others returned defeated, deadened by the experience of hard labor, illness, and starvation. She willed for him to hold on, to return to them. She didn't allow herself to think of what they were going to do if Sheng never returned, if she never heard his voice or felt his touch again. "
"Don't worry, you ba ba will be back soon," he said reassuringly. Tao nodded, but all he tasted as he sucked on the hard candy was grief."
"He and his mother were sad, but his grandfather's sadness was different, heavier, like a weight pulling him down."
The introduction of several minor characters along with some of their back story added to the richness and depth of the tale.

Every book Gail has written, I have read and loved. Tsukiyama mentally and emotionally transported me to China during this most turbulent time. Every one of uher books, although fiction, has taught me something about China's history. Tsukiyama not only makes her characters come alive but also the times and the place. Even though I didn't love it as much as The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, I still enjoyed it very much. 4****

Disclosure: A review copy of the book was provided by St. Martin's Press  in exchange for my honest opinion.


  1. Thanks for the review Kaye! This will be the 3rd book I've read from this period of time in China, and I can't wait to get started on it. I have the ARC on my Kindle.

  2. Awww..that sounds very sad.

  3. I started this book but the download expired before I could finish it:(

  4. I've never read this author, but this book sounds marvelous!

    1. A good place to start would be Women of Silk.

  5. This is a subject that I have read a bit about, but not enough. I would love to read this one, and see how the author creates her characters and the situations caused by Mao's trickery. Great review today. I need to read this one!

  6. My knowledge of this period of history in China is minimal. I would like very much to read this one. Thanks for a very good review.

  7. Oh so good to read you enjoyed this one. Like with Lisa See, I enjoy G.T's books as well -- must read this one. Have a great week.

  8. I'm not usually a big historical fiction fan but this might be of interest. I like books set in China and Japan. And the cover is lovely.

  9. I keep wanting to read one of her books because you like them so much. One of these days I will.

  10. Your love of this author's works has me putting them on my list of books to read!!!


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