Friday, January 6, 2012

Julie's Review: All the Flowers in Shanghai

Summary: For every young Chinese woman in 1930s Shanghai, following the path of duty takes precedence over personal desires. For Feng, that means becoming the bride of a wealthy businessman in a marriage arranged by her parents. In the enclosed world of the Sang household—a place of public ceremony and private cruelty—fulfilling her duty means bearing a male heir. The life that has been forced on her makes Feng bitter and resentful, and she plots a terrible revenge. But with the passing years comes a reckoning, and Feng must reconcile herself with the sacrifices and terrible choices she has made in order to assure her place in the family and society—even as the violent, relentless tide of revolution engulfs her country. Both a sweeping historical novel and an intimate portrait of one woman’s struggle against tradition, All the Flowers in Shanghai marks the debut of a sensitive and revelatory writer.

Review: The cover of All the Flowers in Shanghai hooked me. It looks like a poster that would have been used in China during the 1930s to promote the beauty of a woman. What lies beneath the cover was just as beautiful as the cover. I don't take lightly comparing authors to each other but Duncan Jepson's prose reminded me very much of Lisa See's and that is a high compliment. To tell a woman's story while being a man can't be an easy thing but like Arthur Golden (Memoirs of a Geisha) he does it easily and with great finesse.

The entire novel is told from Feng's point of view as she writes her story to her child. We are not sure in the beginning who the child is but it's evident that the story is a sorrowful one. Feng is happy to spend the days in the gardens outside their family home with her Grandfather. Her MA has been grooming older sister to move the family up in social status. Her Sister is a cruel and hateful woman, who is spoiled by her parents but is also used by her parents.

As second daughter, Feng isn't expected to do anything but to take care of her parents when they are older. Over a period of time Feng comes to know a young boy, Bi, who is visiting Shanghai because his mother is the seamstress of Sister's wedding dress. It is during this time that Feng actually thinks of what life could be like without her family obligations. Then something happens to change the course of her life forever. Instead of being the daughter who takes care of the family, she ends up being the one that gets married away. Feng ends up being the First Wife of the First Son of the Sang Family.

Through Feng's eyes, we see the Sang Family for what they are: greedy, rude, miserable and rich. For a while she maintains her innocence until an event fills her with rage and revenge. In the end it is the anger, rage and revenge that will eat at her soul. Those are the things that will cause her to lose everything she ever loved.  Feng is an intriguing character and we see her change from an innocent young girl to a bitter woman who doesn't know how to have happiness even when it's within her grasp.

Did the book end how I would have liked? No, but it was the most realistic; which is probably better. It's obvious that Mr. Jepson has a passion for the history of China and even more the history of motherhood, family and women in China.

If you are looking for an excellent novel that reads like a personal memoir, then I highly recommend debut author Duncan Jepson's All the Flowers in Shanghai.

Final Take: 4.75/5



Marjorie/cenya2 January 14, 2012 at 6:07 PM  

I love Lisa See's books and this one sounds like a fantastic read as well.
It is on my wish list.
Thanks for the review.

cenya2 at hotmail dot com

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