Women of the Silk

gail1.jpgRural China in the 1920’s. 8 year old Pei was brought to the local seer by her parents. There, they were told that while Pei’s older sister, Li, will be fortunate enough to get married, Pei may not marry, but she will be loved in a very complicated manner. In a place and time where unwed daughters are thought to bring bad luck to the family, Pei’s father decided to bring her to the nearby town’s silk factory. Girls of all ages work and live in that silk factory. Its like a sisterhood formed by girls who are either also deemed unlucky by families and girls who, while waiting for their match in marriage, make use of the time to work and send money to their families. At the silk factory, Pei finds herself a new family, and meets Lin, a girl from a wealthy family in Canton. She and Lin form a special kind of relationship—so loving and intimate but never sexual. When Lin’s mother hints that she would like her daughter to marry, Lin and Pei decide to go through a ‘hairdressing ceremony’. It is done when a girl decides to remain single for the rest of her life. Just like marriage, it is also done with ritual and celebration. The story then unfolds a series of events like the women workers holding a rally protesting for their rights as employees, and evacuating to Hongkong in order to flee the invading Japanese troops. For a historic China setting told by a Chinese/Japanese-American writer, this story is written in a very simple manner. Nothing prose and poetic about it, even the narration and description of characters and places are direct and straight. (Which is pretty rare for a Chinese-American novel) The very core and surrounding issue of the story is profound and informative (i.e, The way daughters are regarded in old China, arranged marriages, feminism and women’s rights, mild bisexuality, and Sino-Japanese war). Whereas other authors would take advantage of themes as thick as this, Tsukiyama preferred to keep it simple and light. This book can pass as a young adult material. This is storytelling as straight and simple as you can get. In a way it is a relief from all those drama-laden feminist Chinese novels. Not exactly a novel you would find hard to put down, but also not something that would put you to sleep. It just lies in between, nothing so great about it, nothing so terrible as well. One word: safe.

One response to “Women of the Silk

  1. I thought I would hate this book, but i ended up falling in love with it! Delicate, beautiful, and lovley. This book is perfect for a light yet entertaining read.

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