My work book club read this book for our April/May selection. I had attempted it before through an audiobook narrated by Elizabeth McGovern (wonderfulMy work book club read this book for our April/May selection. I had attempted it before through an audiobook narrated by Elizabeth McGovern (wonderful to listen to but definitely an exercise in mindfulness to pay close attention for a prolonged period!). I was glad I gave it a second attempt (and wouldn't have if my group hadn't selected it)--it was easy but touched on some interesting (to me) areas of time and place for the protagonist, Cora.
Cora is an orphan in New York who is sent west on one of the orphan trains. She is fortunate enough to be selected be an older couple in Kansas who are kind to her and she ends up staying in Kansas for her formative years. Through a few circumstantial events that become revealed later; she ends up the chaperone of Louise Brooks (a real person who is fictionalized in this book) as she auditions for the Denishawn dance company in New York over the summer. Louise is Cora's exact opposite; she finds Cora uptight and ruled by a moral code that doesn't apply to her and actively rebels against Cora for most of their time together. While Louise is possibly a "villain" in the story, she does, inadvertently, challenge Cora to critically think about her role in her life---her life with her husband, her role as a mother, and social norms that have put restrictions on her life and on the lives of other people she admires and loves.
The book took some surprising twists and turns; I wasn't expecting a couple of them. The last forty or so pages seemed like a very extended epilogue and might have been a bit extraneous but I still really enjoyed them. I am also intrigued by this method of writing that anchors the time and place of a story in a real person, in this place, Louise Brooks. I wonder how much of a disservice or service this is to their legacy. There were definitely times when the author portrayed Louise as a sympathetic character--but more often than not she was more like a petulant girl-child or a spoiled and willful child. ...more
I have a hard time recollecting Snow Flower and the Secret Fan but I remember devouring it. For some reason, this one had a lot of halted momentum for me when I felt like I should have just breezed right through it.
The story follows a girl who grows up in the tea provinces of China--when the book begins in the 1980s, her remote mountain village is steeped in traditions that don't reconcile with anything from the modern era (animal sacrifices, ceremonial rituals, etc). They were generally untouched by the cultural revolution, save a teacher who was banished to their village. The heroine becomes pregnant and without a father for her child has to give the baby up for adoption--abandoning it at an orphanage in the more modern city. Her daughter is eventually adopted by a wealthy couple from California and the story becomes a thread of the mother in China, struggling to survive, and the daughter in affluent Pasadena.
It's a good read and I think I was just in a funk when I read it -- there are lots of coincidences that are a little difficult to swallow--but it makes good reading! ...more