One of my goals on my 101thingsin1001days blog is to read ten fiction books because despite being a very fast and huge fan of literature when I was 14...eventually life got in the way and I make no time to just disappear into a story. This was one I picked up when I was on holiday this summer, I bought it in a charity shop in Scarborough for around £1 but the RRP is £7.99 but well worth it even if you end up paying the latter amount.
I have read Private Papers of Eastern Jewel, Red Lotus and am currently on Geisha of Gion. I really love films and books on the lives of women in Asia during the war and a few generations before, you'll be hooked.
Narrated in 3rd person the author tells the life of Li-Xia, how her teenage mother gave birth and her father locked the mother up straight away and then fled to the fields to bury the baby alive because he did not want another female. This baby was to be the next in a long line of female children he was bore. Her mother breaks the window and jumps from it in the effort to save her newborn and impales herself but she was known as one of many women in that time who could read and write; a skill Li Xia will grow up to want and ask every one of her many guardians she comes to stay with if she can learn.
Just as her father is about to start dumping dirt on the baby he senses something...he believes a spirit (fox fairy) has now possessed the child and he will pay if he kills her. So he keeps her. He spends the next few years grooming her to be sold and then tries to bind her feet once she is old enough which he hopes will help raise the price he will get. Now an illegal act in China but unaware to this, he gets his three concubines to hold her down while they bend her toes around to have them bound into lovely lotus feet. An act in China said to give women smaller feet and make them look erotic when they bounce up and down on fragile feet.
Befriending sympathetic concubine number 3, Li Xia is given her mother's old writing equipment and journals with which she spends hours gazing at in secret wishing she could read.
She is sold to a rich merchant and works on a silk farm with her own little family of girls her own age who become life long friends and teach her a lot of what she knows. She then shines above the rest and her superior thinks it's time she starts to spin the silk instead of just collecting it, proving herself again she earns a place in the merchants bed, a place she would rather not be. After an incident with the merchant and not making it to his bed, the next thing Li Xia knows is that she is being whipped on the soles of her feet, tied up, forced to sleep with the pigs and finally thrown in the river to drown. Though not before the male workers on the farm have tried to have their way with her.
But someone, some 'western barbarian' as the Chinese call him was sailing in and has seen a bit of commotion by the river and what looks like a pig basket with a restrained being inside it being thrown into the river. His associate tells him not to get involved but he jumps into the river anyway and brings the basket back to the surface only to discover a girl in her early teens dirty, beaten black and blue and almost dead.
He takes her under his wing, nurses her back to health and allows her to live her dream. Not before a few obstacles and enemies interfere first....
My one flaw with this book is that the author can be very over descriptive. I know all about writing stories and what keeps people on edge but able to 'live' in the story as well. The descriptions are very thorough but once every chapter the author tends to really trail off and start describing a room for over two pages.
A tale of two generations and their journey from babies into womanhood, finding men who love, respect and treat them as equals. A journey to remain free. A heart wrenching story, 480 pages long and I've read a few books in my time...I nearly bawled my eyes out when there was nothing left to read.
I bought this book as a last minute purchase on my way to the airport for my honeymoon (April 2010.) I know you should not judge a book by its cover but this one is very pretty and it immediately attracted my attention on the shelf. I have read Memoirs of a Geisha and also Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and have become fascinated by the very secretive cultures of China and Japan, especially the roles of women.
The book has three women lead characters. It starts with Pai-Ling, she is only 15 when she is sold by her family who have fallen from wealth. She becomes the unwanted fourth wife of a much older man, he wants more male children. She becomes pregnant and gives birth to a baby girl. He decides to kill the baby but stops when he thinks he sees a fox spirit. They are very superstitious and decide that the girl should live.
The book hooks you from the start.
The book follows the girl through her hard childhood into womanhood and her fight for survival. She ends up almost having a happy ending but her past haunts her. I won't say too much because I would not want to give away too many 'spoilers.'
The rest of the book is about this daughter, Li-Xia, and her fight.
The story is one of friendship, love and fight for survival throughout. There some parts which are shocking, brutal and sexual but these are necessary to the story. I found myself completely absorbed into the story.
I found myself re-telling the story as I read it to my new husband. It was probably a wierd book to take on honeymoon.