Mar 29, 11
Read from March 26 to 28, 2011
Such an ambitious subject for a debut novel - but how exquisitely Sam Meekings carries it off. The story of a young couple in an arranged marriage in the 1940s, which follows them through to the new Millennium. Added to which we have the legend, myth and good old-fashioned tall story telling from the Kitchen god between the chapters.
Beautiful, elegant prose conveys the stark harshness and brutality of Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution. I had never really realised here in the West just what was happening in China during those three decades. We just found the Chinese slightly amusing in their matching utilitarian suits, and their "Little Red Books" of the thoughts of Chairman Mao. How ridiculous it all seemed to us. But reading this book you can just feel and breathe the fear of ordinary people denounced as "bourgeois" for reading a book, wearing glasses, having a piece of silk or art. Then sent for "retraining", aka brainwashing and punishment, to the far reaches of the country for years and years.
But this book is not all tragedy, however the Chinese have suffered over that period. There is great love and there are some happy times. And some funny ones - I just loved how Grandma Dumplings stole a black and White rooster from the Market, then, convinced that it was her dead husband come back to live with her again, lavished all sorts of love and attention on the chicken, only to have him escape the house and end up as lunch on the neighbour's table.
I loved this book. I can't believe that Sam Meekings achieved this at such a young age. A must read for anyone planning a trip to China - I wish that I had read it before I went two years ago. I believe that I would have looked at with slightly different eyes.
I hope this book gets the success it deserves - definitely five stars from me!