Athira (Reading on a Rainy Day)'s Reviews > A Thread of Sky: A Novel

A Thread of Sky by Deanna Fei
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's review
May 09, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: 2011, source-review, fiction, f-literary, source-own, favorites, personal-library
Read from April 05 to 11, 2011

A Thread of Sky is the story of six women - Irene Shen, whose husband of thirty years is killed in an accident four hours after he left her to pursue an opportunity in Maine and she said "Good riddance" in response to him leaving; her three daughters, Nora, who's struggling with commitment issues with a fiancé who cheated on her, Kay, who was tired of the question "Where are you from?" and decided to find out by going to China, and the teenager Sophie, suffering from bulimia and self-image issues; Irene's poet sister, Susan, who doesn't agree with everything Irene does; and their eighty-year old mother, Lin, who has more to her history than she lets on. None of these women really connect well with each other. Their relationships appear to be more obligatory than warm. Now Irene wants to change all that and bring the family closer. And her solution to that is to go on a tour to China - all six of them. Except no one's really interested or enthusiastic about it.

And so the six set out on this package tour, in the process visiting many "must-sees" and confronting each other about their personal issues. Over the next several pages, we come to know their weakness, their similarities and differences in opinion, their past scandals and secrets, and their love lives.

This book was beautiful! I was already sold by the very description - I've previously read and loved books that were told from the perspectives of many pivotal women characters so I knew that A Thread of Sky was going to be yet another book that I'd enjoy. True enough, I loved getting into the "skins" of these six women. Except for Susan, whose character I found too flat and one-dimensional, I loved every other central character in this book.

The strength of this novel lies in its characters. I loved it that even the supporting characters were well-portrayed, with their tiny flaws and standout characteristics coming through in the beautiful prose. Irene clearly had a difficult life. All six women have felt the pressure to perform. Lin Yulan, having been a revolutionary in her youth could tolerate no weaknesses in her daughters. She would push them to aim for the sky and beyond. Irene has been determined not to be like her mother to her daughters, but the pressure to perform is still felt on the fringes. Their failures and troubles in their marriages also show up in the girls' relationships - the insecurities, the difficulties with trusting someone, the struggle to say "yes".

I found that I could most connect with Nora. Nora, who's hesitant to slow down for even one minute in her high-powered Wall Street job on the trading floor. A lone woman among so many men. Always on her toes. Nora worries all the time about her fiancé cheating on her, even though he loves her so much and wants to marry her. Eventually he does, and it breaks something inside her. I couldn't relate much to her sister, Kay, who wanted to address her identity issues by going straight to the mainland and living among the very poor people. I guess it's because I don't think it's necessary that you need to live really poor to understand a country well, when a country is a potpourri of all kinds of people, that one sect alone doesn't personify it.

On the other hand, Irene's feelings really made me feel sad. No matter what she did, it was never enough for her daughters or her mother. She really wants to bond with her family, but she doesn't seem to be doing it the right way. Eventually when she says, "You just want to take a stand against me", the poignancy of her situation is all the more hard to absorb. Her mother, Lin, yearned for both her daughters to have a "fire" within themselves, and when they don't seem to stand up to her expectations, she marks them as "fools". Whereas her son, who has never had any ambition doesn't ever incur her wrath. Of course, there's an explanation for that at the end of the book, but I still chalked it up to the highly patriarchal society that most Asian countries encouraged.

This book is definitely a great read for women. The difficulties faced by Asian women brought about by their upbringings and cultural beliefs, the problems they faced simply because they were women were nicely tied in with the narrative without appearing planted for dramatic effect or plot control purposes. It also raises a lot of questions, primarily that of whether people are really that different because they look different. As Kay says many times, it's unnerving to be asked time and again about where her home is, when the answer is Brooklyn. How does one even begin to contemplate an answer to such a question? Just because someone looks Asian? The book also wonders whether there is any purpose to preserving history when "Those who remembered would always remember. Those who didn't would never understand."

I was very fascinated by the tour that the women undertook. It felt very realistic, almost as if I was a part of the tour as well. In the afterword, the author Deanna Fei mentions that she did undertake such a tour with her sisters, mother, aunt and grandmother, which I guess made the description of the tour all the more realistic. Overall, this is a really beautiful read. It's a wonderful window into modern-day China, and in the end, it really makes you want to go on one such a tour and see the places that this book visited.

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