A Hundred Flowers by Gail Tsukiyama

Published by St. Martin’s Press, August 2012 ****

The simplicity of this narrative may not appeal to readers who want action-driven plots, but I enjoyed the way Tsukiyama meandered through the 5 months that the novel took place.  This was very character driven, often switching third person perspectives between 7 year-old Tao, his mother Kai Ying, his grandfather Wei, his Aunty Song, and pregnant beggar Suyin.  Their lives revolve around their family, but since Tao’s father Sheng was taken by the Communist Party for reeducation, there is an empty space in their home.  At first, the story seems contained within the walls of the villa, centering around a courtyard and the kopak tree planted there.  But as revelations are exposed, the outside world comes crashing in and each individual is changed, as are their perceptions of one another.

More than anything, Tsukiyama effectively portrays an ordinary family’s life under the Communist regime in 1958.  Their existence has been pared down to the most basic survival, and I feel the simplicity of the writing reflects this.  Sheng’s arrest is a glaring example of the hypocrisy of the government and their ineptitude of even blaming the right people for their transgressions.  This is clearly demonstrated in a little boy’s confusion, a wife’s desperation, and a father’s guilt.  Although I didn’t dislike any of the characters, their tentativeness lacks depth.  Perhaps that can be attributed to the unrushed pace of the novel as a whole and the resignation of their situation.  Altogether it was a decent book that conveyed the atmosphere of China at the time.

I received a complimentary copy of this book via the Amazon Vine program.

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