“ Genre: Romance / Author: Aimee lu / Publication Date: 1998 / New Edition / Publisher: Headline „
Cloud Mountain by Aimee Liu
This has to be one of the most moving and haunting book I have ever read. I don't often read books twice and this one I have and it stays with me for months and years as it is sometime since I read it. I felt inspired to write the review having talked about our favourite books on facebook.
The book is a novel but it is based on the author's grandmother's diaries so pretty much a story based on facts and a lot of research too.
WHAT AMAZON SAY
"California, 1906. Hope Newfield and Leong Po-yo fall in love. Defying every taboo, this independent American woman and aristocratic Chinaman marry. But in the coming years, as they move from San Francisco to China, their love is tested by prejudice, conflicting loyalties and different traditions."
That is a very understated product description as this book is so much more ; it is a love story as well as a history of China and to an extent also a piece of US history.
Hope is a teacher and she meets Po-yo while tutoring him in English. This is the year of the Los Angeles earth quake and their relationship develops after they are caught up in the earthquake and all the aftershock at the time.
At the time white women did not marry Chinese men and it was a major social no no. They ran away with two other Chinese men and European women to get married in secret.
After a short while Po-yo was summoned back to China, pre revolution China and of course Hope follows some months later. Her descriptions of China and all that she experienced was a real eye opener. When Po-yo met her from the boat they could not show any emotion despite not having seen each other for some months. Hope found this all very strange and hard to accept. She was now the inferior one treated as a lesser person by all she came into contact with outside the home.
The story continues with Po-yo becoming involved with the Revolution and Mao, the family have to escape and live in the mountains. The relationship has its ups and downs, children are born and the family move from one place to another. The politics in China around the Revolution also has a major impact upon their lives and this makes for very interesting reading.
AIMEE LIU'S NOTES - From her website
"My great-grandfather was the Viceroy of Canton in the late 1800s, my great-grandmother his last concubine. In 1903, their son -- my grandfather -- was the first Chinese to stand publicly and call for the overthrow of China's Manchu rulers. In 1911, after working for years with Sun Yat-sen, my grandfather was appointed the first Senator from Hupei in China's first Republic. But in between, he ran Sun's newspaper in San Francisco and saved the life of a young white woman --his English teacher -- during the Great San Francisco Earthquake. In spite of laws prohibiting "mixed marriage," my grandfather married his teacher... my grandmother."
I found the story all the more poignant as it was based on the author's great grandmother's life, these things actually happened. The descriptions of the fighting in China, the life in a traditional Chinese house, riding in the rickshaws through the narrow streets, the descriptions of the amazing mountain scenery are brought to life by the authors' beautiful writing and the fact that they come from first hand experience.
According to the author about 75% of the novel is based on scenes that she managed to get from her family's memories, photographs, scrapbooks, documents, or letters. The rest Ms Liu created and pieced together from historical accounts and other firsthand memoires. She used thee to build the story adding elements from her own imagination to bring to life the scenes and characters.
I thought the way Aimee Liu approached the story was perfect and her writing was so well paced and descriptive without being fussy or over emotional.
Some of the descriptions were so well told that I could clearly picture the scene. It was almost like watching a film. One scene that come to mind was when they visited Po-yo's mother, Hope describes how the mother looks down to her tiny bound feet. Po-yo's mother found Hope's feet disgusting!
When Po-yo approached his mother her had to kowtow and approach her on his knees bowing and keeping down all the time he was in her presence. The matriarch of the family was all powerful and her control over Po-yo had a major negative influence over his and Hope's marriage. I found this aspect of the story showing China's social traditions to be really interesting. This was a time when few Europeans were living in China and even fewer actually living with Chinese people so these insights fascinating to me.
I think another thing that came through was the racist attitudes and bigotry that existed both in America at the time and also in China. The Chinese aristocracy looked down on Europeans and the Europeans in China in places like Shanghai in turn thought they were superior to the Chinese. Hope was sort of stuck in the middle of it all. She was able to observe in a unique position all these social interactions but it also meant that she was quite isolated especially when Po-yo was with off fighting in the Revolution.
Hope begins to write articles for American newspapers about her life in China and what was happening there at the time. This did not go down well with her husband at all when he found out and he forbade her to continue. Hope does maintain a relationship with the other two girls who got married to Chinese men with her but their lives are different again from Hope's. Neither of them were as educated as Hope and I feel that their husband's were not as high in the social world of China. It was interesting to see the contrast in their experiences to that of Hope. I thought how brave all of them were really to take such a huge leap of faith into a country and way of life that was a world away from America at the time with absolutely no family support.
Not only is this the story of Hope and Po-yo's love and marriage and a very different insight in China and its history at the time but it is also a really tense thriller at times. Hope and Po-yo lived through some pretty hairy times and I found it hard to put the book down some nights as I was there living through the tensions and fears with them.
WHAT THE CRITICS HAVE SAID
"The prose has a haunting, lyrical quality and an aura of authenticity." -ALA Library Journal
"Liu's prose is elegant and shifts effortlessly from descriptive passages to dialogue, from poetry to journals and correspondence. She incorporates maps and a chronology to assist the historically weary reader...with details of the plot. CLOUD MOUNTAIN is full of surprising twists and turns of fate as Liu weaves this tale of conflicting political factions and forbidden love." -The Book Report
"...a saga that vividly and poignantly traces the history of a star-crossed couple based on the lives of [Liu's] own grandparents." -- The Asian Reporter
SO IN SUMMARY
This is a truly great book in my opinion. The story is exciting and really interesting and a real learning experience, a modern classic that haunted me for years. I think the last time I read this was a couple of years ago and yet it is still clear in my mind. I really admired Hope, she has amazing strength of character and was so brave and resilient.
If you haven't read this and like books set in China, or you like different love stories set in other countries and times. If you have any interest in the history of China at this time then I urge you to give this book a try. The author writes is an easy style using a variety of approaches. Some parts of the story are told directly with Hope as a narrator, some as letters and telegrams from the main characters and also at times poems, diary entries and news paper articles also add to the story. This makes the story so intricate and there is always something new to grab your attention.
Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same user name.