Miz Moffatt's Reviews > Under the Hawthorn Tree

Under the Hawthorn Tree by Ai Mi
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's review
Mar 29, 12

bookshelves: book-to-film, coming-of-age, historical, romance, translation
Read in March, 2012

Full review posted on Across the Litoverse

Under the Hawthorn Tree opens with Jingqiu, a senior high school student, who's travelling to the countryside with her Educational Reform Association to write a new textbook based on the testimonies of the lower and middling peasants of West Village. Jingqiu comes from an impoverished and politically questionable urban family, and her impressive writing skills coupled with her endurance allow Jingqiu to redeem what she views as her political shortcomings. She aims to fit in with her hosts and the rural way of life until she meets Sun Jianxin (a.k.a. Old Third), a man who had once lived with her host family as she is now. From the moment the two meet, an instant and impossible love blooms—Old Third comes from a powerful military family while Jingqiu's father was sent to a labour reform camp as a reviled landowner.

Once Jingqiu returns to the city, Old Third continues to pursue her at all costs. But Jingqiu cannot ignore her mother's warning: one slip leads down a road of hardship. One simple mistake—whether it be a misinterpreted letter, an overheard comment, or a neighbour who witnesses a her walking with an unknown man—can ruin a girl's reputation and damage her family's social standing. Even with those fears running through her head, Jingqiu falls further in love with Old Third, and approaches what will no doubt cause her a lifetime of heartache…

Ai Mi captures Jingqiu's suffocating anxiety with grace—she's a quick and clever girl, but sadly, she must redirect her energies into constant self-policing to avoid bringing greater hardship onto her family. Also, love during the Cultural Revolution speaks loudest through the small, secretive details (e.g. Old Third buying new boots for Jingqiu after she ruins her feet at work; Jingqiu sews Old Third's letters into her jacket to protect them from outsiders). I did find Jingqiu's fierce pride could get frustrating at times, though I understand why she would refuse to accept money and other gifts from her friends and from Old Third. Overall, a great addition to the reading list and an excellent representative of modern Chinese literature.

Ideal for: Readers who like their romances tragic, impossible, and a touch melodramatic; Folks with an interest in Chinese literature and personal stories from the Cultural Revolution; Readers who notice the small details in life and value the guarded gestures of two lovers living in bad times.
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