All the Flowers of Shanghai...Before I give my review of this book, I have to clarify that I've read many books about China, Chinese Women and the CulAll the Flowers of Shanghai...Before I give my review of this book, I have to clarify that I've read many books about China, Chinese Women and the Cultural Revolution. Being Chinese my self, surrounded by older Chinese women also gave me invaluable insights into the basic struggles and values of them. The bottom line is that I probably had a higher expectation for the book than most.
The story was told in the voice of Xiao Feng, as a letter to the daughter she never raised, recounting her own and her family's history. I love the beginning of the book, where Feng described her happy childhood in Shanghai during the 1930s, spending the day with her Grandfather around town, visiting public gardens, learning names of flowers in Latin and sampling street delicacies. The author's description of Shanghai, possibly in it's most delightful and successful era of history, where all fancy merchandises from all over the world were purchasable, was accurate and enlightening. I almost didn't want her simple childhood to end. Xiao Feng in this part of the book was naive, simple curious, smart, loving and forgiving. She knew that happiness does not come from beauty or wealth, but within.
I love the last 15% of the book as well, where Feng ended up in a sewing factory during the cultural revolution, being reformed and corrected by working hard and enjoying very little. There was a glimpse into the mind and functions of the Red Army members, who were barely immature teenagers themselves. Feng, in this section, did not talk much about her feelings, yet her actions showed she was loving and forgiving, too. The ending was abrupt, leading lots of questions unanswered.
Now it brings us to the major and middle section of the book, which I found unbearable, and not only because of the boring tone of her monologue and her description of mundane things over and over again. This section begins as Feng was married into one of the richest family in Shanghai, which I could not describe how she ended up without spoilers. Her husband was not good-looking, but loved and treasured her. This part should have had lots of potential for the author to develop conflicts and relationships, whether positive or negative, between Feng and her family...but no. Feng spent all her self dwelling in self-pity, repeating meaningless things around her and describing how she resists performing the marriage ritual with her husband, night in and night out. I had no idea how she transformed from the loving girl in the beginning to this materialistic, hateful, deceitful, angry, loveless and full of revenge character overnight. I did not see the causes or events leading to it. I almost stopped reading a few times to get over the torture. Her resistance of performing wife duties was a bit unrealistic and forceful as well, especially for women of that era.
All in all, there are much better books to understand China, and the mentality of Chinese women with.
Every so often, a book comes along. It’s everything you imagine a great fiction to be. It evokes the tremendous joy of just being able to read, to immEvery so often, a book comes along. It’s everything you imagine a great fiction to be. It evokes the tremendous joy of just being able to read, to immerse yourself in a book so fully, to jump into a journey where every sense in your body is heightened, and your mind stimulated. Then the last page is turned, you sigh with sadness since you know you will not be able to find another book like this for a long, long time.
Shadow of Night is such a book.
I wrote these in my review of the first book of the trilogy:
“The author has in depth knowledge not only about history, but also science, architecture, Europe, culinary delights and wine… The book immediately reminded me of "The Historian" by Elizabeth Kostova, since both story took me to places in Europe that I've never been and historical periods that were so enlightening…..The story will be a delight for people who actually enjoy accurate scientific, historical, culinary and geographical information. The author has a wealth of knowledge and a unique style of writing and she's willing to share.”
The review still rings true for the second installment, and more so. For readers who disliked the first installment of the series due to the slowness of the beginning, you’ll be delighted to hear that this book started right at the part where the first book dropped off, and is a thrill ride all the way to the end. You can also find satisfactory answers to most, if not all the burning questions that you had after reading A Discovery of Witches. I know it’s a gruesome wait for the second book in the series, but the wait is well worth it…this book surpassed everything I had imagined it to be.
The story begins right where the first book left off, Matthew and Diana landed in Elizabethan England, 1590, hoping to find the enchanted Ashmole 782, as well as someone to help the spellbound Diana to learn her abilities. You’ll be surprised to encounter real historical characters that came alive under Harkness’ pen. Harkness’ take on Christopher Marlowe, Elizabeth I, Walter Raleigh and others were unique and creative, yet totally believable. I wrote in my review of ADoW how I fell in love with all the characters in the first book, yet I’m equally invested in all the new characters in Shadow of Night, both historical and fictional. It’s heartbroken to realize that these characters live in another space and time, and the only way I could reconnect with them is through the re-reading of this book.
If you loved A Discovery of Witches because of Harkness’ extensive and detailed descriptions of everything, you’re in for another treat. Harkness bought Elizabethan England to life using her professional knowledge and her unique writing voice: fashion, writing, architecture, food, music, writing, cooking, art, jewelries, home decors, smell of spices, and even the sound of church bells…. Be prepared to be immersed into 1600 Europe, from England to France and Prague, whether if you’re prepared or not. I recommend you to drop or finish every other book in your list to get ready for the most sensual ride in your life.
I also love how Harkness incorporated a short chapter of the present after each part of the book. It shows how Diana and Matthew’s interference with the past affects the future. Everything that we do or not do has an impact in future, especially in our loved one and family’s life. Hopefully, history is valued and lessons learned. These chapters showed us how important it is to seize the moment and live your life, because there’s no going back. A few tender moments bought tears to my eyes. Compared to ADoW, the second book is much more emotional.
Romance. Matthew and Diana in the 1600s were not without their problems. Matthew in Elizabethan era was a much more complex and dark character. The society was also less friendly for females, especially a witch with a weird accent. However, fans looking forward to more romance between them will not be disappointed. There are lots and lots of tender moments and love. It made up for what was lacking in A Discovery of Witches.
If I write anymore here, this review will become a book! I do have a few recommendations before you jump in for the journey of your life: 1) Read A Discovery of Witches first. There’s no way you could understand the plot and all the complexity of this book if you don’t know the history of the characters. 2) Many new characters are introduced in this book. Use the appendix/Guide at the end of the book to familiar yourself with them. They are divided by location, quite clever. 3) If you are going to look for a simple, easy read for entertainment, this book is not for you; but if you love history, science, Europe, art, literature, geography, religion, philosophy, (food and wine for ADoW)…then, get this book (and the first).
(Thanks for Penguin Group for allowing me to access an advance ebook for review through NetGalley. This book will be published on July 10, 2012)...more
There was a question on one of the book pages I frequent: "Name the last book that kept you up all night." It was an easy question for me to answer. SThere was a question on one of the book pages I frequent: "Name the last book that kept you up all night." It was an easy question for me to answer. Since I read all the time, I hardly stay up all night to finish a book; I have all day to do it. However, in a trip to Thailand many years ago, I hid in the bathroom to finish a book, a rather difficult book due to all the historical facts. I hid in the bathroom so my light did not bother the other members of my family (prior Kindle time). The book, The Twentieth Wife, was by this author. Since then, I've read a few more books by Indu Sundaresan, and none has disappointed me. I enjoyed this story as much as, if not more than, all the others.
This book, like all her books, was written with intensive research into the history of India (also England in this case.) The story is centered around the Koh-i-Noor diamond, a gorgeous yellow diamond that's was held by rulers in Hindu, Mughal, Turkic, Afghan, Sikh and finally British, countries. The diamond was once around 186 carats and its name means "Mountain of Light." It has a curse that is believed for centuries to bring bad luck to all its male owners. They suffered from sicknesses, the loss of their throne, or worse, death. Only women owners could wear it safely without suffering any ill effects.
“The diamond is said to have held a curse. Legend had it that the Kohinoor could be safely possessed only by a woman, that no man who had it would long hold his kingdom, and that it could never be worn in the official crown of a monarch (hence, perhaps, the reason it was worn in an armlet or set in a throne). In India, Persia, and Afghanistan, during the diamond’s tumultuous and bloody history, only men owned the Kohinoor.” **
With her known beautiful words and realistic descriptions of people and sights of the period, along with reliable facts, the story begins when the Koh-i-Noor was given to the Punjab ruler Maharajah Ranjit Singh so he could help the Afghan ruler Shah Shuja regain his lost throne. The story ended with the death of Dulip Singh in Paris and the ownership of Koh-i-Noor in British Empire. From page one, the reader will feel transported back to the sound and sight of old India. Through out the book, you will experience the love of the young who are full of hope for a better future; the power of rulers, the betrayal and loyalty of human, the architecture and sights of India, the brutality of conquest, and the sadness and hopelessness of old age and along with losing one’s country. The smell of Chai and saffron will still linger after you close the book. It’s the best journey a reader could ever hope to achieve.
Other than everything that mentioned above...this story offers a very interesting take on the effect of colonialism. It's quite a sad book to read. I couldn't help but feel a sense of loss for the diamond, for the puppet maharajah Dulip Singh...and for his three children that all had no heir. History, which could never be forgotten, influences all of us. Will the human race really learn from their past mistakes?
If you have time, google the Koh-i-Noor and admire it on the crown of the Queen of England. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, regardless how it was obtained…
**Thanks to Washington Square Press for a preview galley. The quote was from the advanced reader's copy. ...more
As a lover for fiction from faraway lands, I noticed and kept track of this title way before publication date. I love to read about how war and historAs a lover for fiction from faraway lands, I noticed and kept track of this title way before publication date. I love to read about how war and history could affect all of us, no matter where we are, where we were from. This is the debut novel of Sahar Delijani. She drew examples for this story from her parents and other family members, who were actually imprisoned in the Evin Prison in the 1980s. Ms. Delijani was born there. One could safely say that this book is part memoir, part fiction.
The book opened with a heart-gripping chapter. A pregnant woman prisoner, Azar, was being taking to a local hospital fanned by “sisters” and “brothers,” or male and female prison guards from Evin. She was blindfolded and suffering from humility, harsh treatment and contraction pain. When she finally was allowed to sit down somewhere, she thought a doctor was going to see her. Yet an interrogator came in, with paper and pen, hoping to break her during her time of weakness and pain, with her baby about to slip out… This was the best chapter of the book.
Not much is known about the Evin Prison, since most prisoners were blindfolded while being transported within; it has the most efficient interrogative methods that could break any human, and it was crowded. It was built to fit 350 prisoners but holds up to 15,000 all the time. It’s also called Evin University, due to the number of intellectuals who were imprisoned, tortured or killed there. It’s the prison not only for actual criminals, but also intellectuals, students, activists, Christians, journalists… In other words, any one who’s believed to oppose the Iranian government. The prison is right at the border of the city of Tehran, and its cold tall walls could be visible from many homes.
The stories in the book took place during 1980’s in Tehran, where there was a mass arrest of political activists, to the present, around 2011 in Europe, American and Iran. The chapters went back and forth between the two periods. There were many characters, which were all somewhat related to one to one another and somehow looked, talked and act similar to each other due to the lack or development or similar descriptions: dark hair, dark eyes, and stocky for men. They were the prisoners of Evin and their children who grew up with the effect of war and their emotionally broken parents. Among these kids were Omid, Sara, Neda and Forough who were cousins. The kids carry their parents pain, so they are also broken, suffering and in no way happy or normal, although their love for the country remain strong, even after fleeing to the west with their parents.
I really wanted to give the book 5 stars. It has, as predicted, opened my eyes to the history of Iran, which I only had just a vague idea about. I loved the intended plot; I loved the concept; I loved the way the author narrates, with such lyrical prose and well-used metaphors and symbolism. However, the book is a bit disjointed, the characters were all very similar to each other (except for one or two), the plot did not flow smoothly enough so the book was read like a collection of vignettes. The descriptions were not only weak for characters, but also for the most important place, the prison. The cousins’ home and relationship were just barely scanned over. There’s so much potential to elaborate, to embellish… Unfortunately some sentiments and descriptions were used once too many, like the author was trying too hard to come up with more and new descriptive words or poetic terms. I ended up flipping through pages just to get the book going.
However, I still think this book is worth reading as a debut novel and as an introduction to the sad history and present situation of Iran, since I could feel the author’s love for her country in every single page. A hardback might be better and easier to read than the ebook version due to the various characters that have similar names, descriptions and feelings.
This is a 3.5 star book, the 0.5 extra is for the poetic words and the great opening.
The plot: Was there one, or the author just followed her flow as she wrote with no clear direction? Nothing is logicalI waited 7 years for this book.
The plot: Was there one, or the author just followed her flow as she wrote with no clear direction? Nothing is logical except for the business aspects of the shops.
The pace: Slow with lots of repetitive scenes and actions.
The characters: Dicken-ish, an unlovable man and some revengeful rooks (large black raven-like birds).
The setting: Great, if you like business and old time London in a bleak and dark way with lots of deaths.
The writing: Only thing that kept me reading till the end; wonderful use of words, lyrical prose…not without struggle, though.
The story was quite simple. Bellman, as a boy, killed a rook with a catapult while his three friends watched. Bellman later became a very successful businessman, a family-owned mill and a stranger inspired funeral business called Bellman and Black. On the personal side he suffered through lots of deaths of family and friends. The deaths may or may not have something to do with his killing of the rook. He became a bit detached from his human side, ignoring friends and family. Then he died, which, similarly, may or may not has anything to do with the killing of the rook.
I could tell Diane Setterfield spent a great deal of time doing research for this book. Her descriptions and facts of rooks, mills and the funeral business were all spectacular and informative. Although most readers enjoy more plot-driven books, I truly love reading books that also implemented real facts of certain subjects, especially places, customs and history, as long as the facts contribute to the understanding of the story. Case in point: Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons and Diane Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches. Although Setterfield wrote extensively about running the business of a mill and a funeral home, and included lots of facts about rooks, and weak plot and character makes these facts overbearing and a waste of time. Her prose was brilliant, as usual. She’s an expert in using the right phrases and arranging her words for the right effect. Her usage of English is excellent and her descriptions evocative. Sometimes orotund and overly wordy in a lifeless way:
“Far from it. The rook is no theatrical conjuror with his top hat full of tricks, deluding your eye into perceiving what is not. He is quite the opposite: a magician of the real. Ask your eyes, What color is light? They cannot tell you. But a rook can. He captures the light, splits it, absorbs some and radiates the rest in a delightful demonstration of optics, showing you the truth about light that your own poor eyes cannot see.”
After reading the above paragraph, one would wonder: are colors and the rook’s perception of colors important to the story? NO.
“His cry is harsh and grating, made for a more ancient world that existed before the innovation of the pipe, the lute and the viol. Before music was invented he was taught to sing by the planet itself. He mimicked the great rumble of the sea, the fearsome eruption of the volcanoes, the creaking of glaciers, and the geological groaning as the world split apart in its agony and remade itself.”
Lots of passages like the above two, plus pages and pages of words describing Bellman running his day-to-day businesses. Prose did not help the story’s lack of luster in this case.
Unless you intend to buy the book to read how beautiful her words are and you are okay without feeling a bit of resonance in your heart for the characters or their situation; or you are one of those more elite readers, skip this and read her first book, The Thirteenth Tale, instead.
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance reading copy....more