Thursday, January 20, 2011

Literary Bite: Women of the Silk

Since finishing Bleak House right after Christmas I have been devouring books. My mama sent me back to DC with a stack of reading. When I glanced at that stack a couple days ago I had to do a double-take. Huh? That’s weird. I thought mama gave me a lot of books… I wondered if I had somehow forgotten? Oh wait, I looked at my bedside table where books I’ve finished tend to pile up, there they are. Hmm, I guess I read them all!

Maybe I’m just looking for some good winter escapism. I’ve been to New Orleans, Syria, China, India, Ireland and Brooklyn already and it’s only January 20! That’s 1,183 pages…so I’m averaging almost 60 pages a day!

Anywho, this week’s Literary Bite is about Women of the Silk by Gail Tsukiyama. This was her first novel. Overall, it was interesting, amusing, but ultimately forgettable. 

An initial googling of book reviews gives me this:

If Charles Dickens had lived in early 20th-century China, he would have been Gail Tsukiyama and would have enjoyed the well-deserved praise with which Gail Tsukiyama's first novel Women of the Silk was lauded. A quiet and moving coming-of-age novel about a young Chinese woman sold into the silk trade by her poor parents, Women of the Silk is so full of intensely drawn characters and unpredictable acts that it is very difficult to put down.

What’s the deal with comparing all authors to Charles Dickens??? (Remember the NY Times review of Zeitoun?) Again, I have to disagree. I can’t put my finger on why exactly, but the story felt a little contrived, a little too Westernized. The suppressed Chinese women felt like stereotypes of real people – the Disney equivalent of a silk worker struggling in rural China.

But perhaps I’m being too harsh - I definitely enjoyed it. The writing flowed seamlessly, and the time period was interesting (the novel takes place as the Japanese are invading China pre-WWII). And there are some taboo issues addressed – lesbianism anyone? Tsukiyama delicately touched upon the relationship between Pei and Lin, and that was it – so that definitely threw me for a bit of a loop.