The author captured quite well China of the early 90s, that particular time when certain cities like Guangzhou were experiencing an economic boom, and...moreThe author captured quite well China of the early 90s, that particular time when certain cities like Guangzhou were experiencing an economic boom, and young people had an unprecedented amount of freedom and exposure to new ideas. Themes not only included sexual expression, but also social commentary on issues such as China's hukou system, which, at that time, severely limited those from rural areas. The character Miao Yan, who came from "backward" Yunnan province (where I myself spent six years), was desperate and would go to any lengths, even morally questionable ones, to secure her place in the big city. Although China's hukou system is considerably less restrictive these days, I feel like I have met many Miao Yans during my time in China, women who view sex and marriage as a way up the social ladder.
I do wonder about Fan Wu's decision to write Miao Yan as a minority, rather than just making her hail from some impoverished part of China. I suppose she is supposed to be exotic, but I wonder if Fan Wu's (who I'm assuming is Han Chinese?) own stereotypes about minorities didn't play into this a bit. In the Han world minorities are seen as exotic bird. They love dancing and singing, and the girls are supposed to be not quite as "morally upright" as good Han girls. So I was a little bit disappointed to see a classic stereotype of a minority played out in this book, but at the same time, I can see Fan Wu's reasoning. To the young, innocent Chen Ming, Miao Yan's minority status adds to her mystique, adds yet another layer of inaccesability, allows Chen Ming to create her own mythology surrounding Miao Yan's background. Miao Yan's categorical rejection of her background is juxtaposed against Chen Ming's naive eagerness to embrace Yunnan and the Miao culture on Miao Yan's behalf.
All in all I think February flowers is a book about China that we don't see all that often. It portrays a time and a place that was unique in Chinese history, as well as universal themes of love and friendship. My only complaint is that the "love" scenes were not as fleshed out as they could have been, and I had a hard time buying the final climax with Chen Ming and Du Sheng. Likewise I had a hard time reconciling the young Chen Ming with the adult Chen Ming, the two seemed almost like entirely different people, and I'm not really sure that's what Fan Wu was going for. The fault may lie with the simple fact that adult Chen Ming occupied barely a handful of pages, simply not enough space to fully develop her character. Her trip to the gay bar seemed random and out of place. One other minor bone of contention is the lesbian storyline itself, which seemed somehow forced. To me, it would have been enough to leave Chen Ming's confusion over her feelings for Miao Yan as just that, adolescent confusion over an intensely passionate friendship. It seems like adult Chen Ming would have recognized this long before it got to the point of visiting a gay bar and having an awkward encounter with her ex-roomate's ex-lover. Fan Wu's constantly toyed with the idea of Chen Ming being a lesbian, but never resolved the issue in a satisfactory way. Without the scene in the gay bar I would have been satisfied with Chen Ming's feelings as being those of a confused teenage girl who had never before experienced an intense friendship, but with the inclusion of that scene, I felt like the reader is left wanting an answer, feeling as if Chen Ming is on the verge of making some discovery but not quite there yet.
I'd certainly recommend February Flowers, the writing is solid, the topic is fresh, and the author handles some tough issues quite well. I look forward to reading more of Fan Wu's work. (less)
I'm not usually a big fan of chick-lit, but I liked this book. Maybe because I'm a new mother myself, I found the characters quite relateable. It isn'...moreI'm not usually a big fan of chick-lit, but I liked this book. Maybe because I'm a new mother myself, I found the characters quite relateable. It isn't a mindblowing masterpiece, but it was touching in its own way. Lia's story and how it unravels is particularly heartbreaking. (less)