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Under Fishbone Clouds

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  426 Ratings  ·  110 Reviews
Under Fishbone Clouds is a universal love story, a family saga, and a journey through Chinese history, myth, and culture.  Following a young Chinese couple as their love grows, and is tested, during Mao's Cultural Revolution, this elegant debut novel provides a rare and personal glimpse into the birth modern China.

When the Kitchen God is challenged by the Jade Emperor to f

Hardcover, 416 pages
Published May 18th 2010 by Polygon an imprint of Birlinn Limited (first published December 1st 2009)
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Oct 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If this book doesn’t attain the high readership it deserves, there is no justice. It’s quite simply one of the most lavishly imagined, masterfully researched, exquisitely written contemporary novels I’ve read. And if that sounds as if I’m gushing…well, it’s probably because I am.

Under Fishbone Clouds is written by debut author Sam Meekings, who grew up near the south coast of England and currently resides in China. It is absolutely remarkable that the author is under 30; the book if full of grav
Nov 09, 2010 rated it did not like it
I have to dump this book. It is just too disgusting. There is a jam jar of warm pig fat. A thief would be given a job in the restaurant if he would drink the whole bottle down. "Grey lumps floated like jelly in the thick, slimy liquid." Page 90. Only after the chef and all the other workers have spit into that jar, is it ready for the new employee to swallow it down.....

I don't find pleasure in reading this.

The story switches between the magical life of the "Kitchen God" and
switterbug (Betsey)
Feb 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
It is almost unimaginable that Sam Meekings is a young, debut author. His innate, shimmering talent is steady and captivating throughout the novel, the characters are riveting, and the story itself is painfully soulful. With as much history as he conveyed in this story, you would think that at times, it would be flawed with a "researched" tone. But, no. He threaded the history, story, and characters together with magical stitches, and he laced it with myth and folktales that enhanced the story w ...more
Apr 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This novel of life and love plays out against the backdrop of recent Chinese history, from the Japanese occupation of the 1940s to the 21st century. The Jade Emperor- the head of the Chinese pantheon- has made a wager with the Kitchen God that the Kitchen God cannot fathom the workings of a single human heart. For his study, the Kitchen God has chosen Bian Yuying and Hou Jinyi, who as teens are wed in an arranged marriage- the standard of the time in that place. Yuying’s rich father, who has thr ...more
Book Concierge
From the book jacket: (This) is a universal love story, a family saga, and a journey through Chinese history, myth, and culture. Following a young Chinese couple as their love grows, and is tested, during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, this debut novel provides a personal glimpse into the birth of modern China.

My reaction:
I’ve had this debut novel on my tbr since it was first published in 2010. I was intrigued by the love story coupled with 20th Century Chinese history. And I loved that part of th
Mar 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Roy Elmer
This is an odd one. I'm just not sure what to make of this book. I'll start from the beginning, that seems to work.

First of all, 'Under Fishbone Clouds' feels like what it is: a debut novel. There are flashes of brilliance in here and moments of lyrical prose that were genuinely very impressive. I'm a sucker for such things, and I found that it drew me in.

Secondly, the narrative was disjointed. The story wasn't segmented in such a way that it didn't make sense, it was easy to follow, but it felt
Nov 19, 2010 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
I won this book from SL County Library's reading challenge. Yay, me! (my luck at winning anything has now dwindled to nil for the next few years).
On with what I loved about this book:

1. A beautiful love story between Yuying and Jinyi.
2. The writing was amazing for a debut novel.
3. Learned some Chinese folklore, customs, and history, expertly tied into the storyline.
4. Characters were very rich and real. I felt for both Yuying and Jinyi, even when there purposes were opposite.

Loved this quote. A
When the kitchen god makes a bet with the Jade Emperor that he can understand the human heart, he must follow a couple through their life together. Set in China from the end of WWII through recent times, this story tells a love story through marriage, the civil war, the cultural revolution, death and children.

In between are Chinese tales of love and wisdom.

I always feel like romances end right when the true love story begins. This story begins at marriage and follows love through good and bad t
Apr 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
I started the book once and then had to abandon it temporarily when life got crazy and I realized that it wasn't a book that I could read in short snatches--I had to devote longer stretches of time to it to keep track of the characters. I loved the love and loyalty of the two main characters as they lived through tumultuous times together. If I hadn't studied history and been a little familiar with the events in China during that time, I wouldn't have believed the events of the story were possib ...more
Scottsdale Public Library
The Jade Emperor challenges the Kitchen God to fathom the workings of the human heart. In his quest to find the answer the kitchen God shadows the lives of Jinyi and Yuying as their lives intersect with China’s tumultuous 20th century cultural and political upheavals. From youthful blossoming love to the ghosts and fleeting memories of old age, “Under Fishbone Clouds” is heartfelt and thoughtful. Not just a love story but also a story about love. A great read for fans of Amy Tan and Lisa See!
Oct 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a beautifully written book and the author immerses the reader into the lives and the world of it's two main characters. Love is the central theme against an everchanging backdrop of the immense changes taking place in China's history - Japanese and Communist wars and occupations to the Cultural Revolution. The two main characters persevere in their love despite terrible hardships and unimaginable obstacles. An excellent read. Highly recommend.
Mar 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
What do you get when the Jade Emperor assigns a minor god the task of understanding the human heart? This novel. Under Fishbone Clouds traces a Chinese couple from their arranged marriage through the defeat of the Japanese, followed by the Chinese civil war, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, the birth of grandchildren, and (finally) senility. There are separations, both forced and voluntary; exile, both forced and voluntary; tragedies, ranging from the loss of children to the loss ...more
Jan 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
I downloaded this book onto my Kindle as it was on special offer, and I must admit at first I found it a little hard to get into, but as I carried on it really grew on me. I ended it feeling that it was quite an interesting and unusual book.

On the face of it, the story traces the life of a Chinese couple from the early twentieth century, through the 'cultural revolution' and into modern times, and I felt it really opened my eyes to a very different culture, one I know little about. The story is
Sep 23, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I have a feeling that this is a very fine novel, but it never really clicked with me, though I'm not sure why. It's yet another novel set over the course of the last half of the 20th century in China that makes the political intensely political. (There have been quite a few really good ones on this topic.) That's just the kind of book that I usually really like. Maybe that story line--characters who genuinely welcome the reforms that communism promises to bring to China but who are nonetheless b ...more
Oct 21, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

The book began with a fairy tale and I thought it was to be a very different story than the story it turned into. The fairy story about the kitchen god and the emperor really dragged me into the story. Maybe it was the simplistic way it was written. The stark contrast between this mythical story-line and the real story is dramatic and memorable.

Sam Meekings uses the device to refer back to the old China whilst balancing romance and realism. I found this effective as was the way the story was str
Jan 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was a beautiful story, and exquisitely told. It is the story of Jinye and Yuying, who were married by arrangement during the Japanese occupation of China during the second world war - he an illiterate cook in one of her family's dumpling restaurants, but willing to take her name so that the family name would be preserved in a family with only girls ,and she well-educated and interested in continuing her education. Despite their differences they are much in love, throughout tumultuous years, ...more
Amy Warrick
Aug 07, 2013 rated it it was ok

If you have a nodding acquaintance with 20th century Chinese history and like EPIC SAGAs, this might be a good book for you.

If you have been a student of Chinese history and have seen the movie 'To Live' (because you love Gong Li, or is there another reason to watch Chinese films?), you'll feel like you've read this before. And you don't really want to read it again, especially after this.

I don't know what it would be like to approach this from a standpoint of no knowledge whatsoever of all
Katrina Southern
If I could choose to, I would give this book 3.5 stars, not 3. I have to say, I've been waiting to read this book for a long time. It kept being abandoned though, for other reads and I began to get annoyed with myself for doing that. Finally, I have managed to read it. It ended up being worth the wait too! The story was beautifully written, I really enjoyed Meekings' writing style. He chose a very likeable narrator, the Chinese Kitchen God, which was one of my favourite things about the book. I ...more
Sep 23, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013-reads
This story starts out slow, but stay with it! I promise it will be worth it in the end. You will say, I am so glad I stuck with it. Lots of interesting details in here. I really didn't know a lot about Japan taking over China, but this was so enlightening, I think Meekings has a knack for writing!

Yu Ying and Jinyi are our two main characters and their love is one of a kind. What really was interesting is this story is part historical narrative! If that doesn't get you excited, maybe it isn't for
Feb 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Exquisite. Initially attracted by the unusual title, the lure of a debut novelist and the blurbs by Amy Tan and Alexander McCall Smith, two of my faves, it took me a while to really "get into" this novel. In fact I confess I was close to ditching it when other responsibilities and book club reading interrupted me for a week or so but I am so glad I went back and finished this utterly beautiful story.

Narrated by the Kitchen God, who has a bet going with the Jade Emperor regarding the workings of
Apr 19, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I stumbled upon this book at a secondhand shop and because I enjoy stories about China and the Chinese, it appealed to me. At first I thought this first-time author was trying a bit too hard to write an eloquent epic love story. There was something a bit stilted and Writing 101-ish about it. But the story itself was engaging so I plodded on. As it turned out, I did enjoy the book. And the author's writing style improved as he went along. The story is about a couple who have an arranged marriage ...more
Mar 16, 2011 rated it liked it
Marked as read - finally. I began this book in January and have just now finished it, 4 months later. I was drawn to Under Fishbone Clouds mainly because of the endorsement on the front by Amy Tan. Oh Amy, Amy, Amy. Did we read the same book?

A Chinese couple is followed throughout their relationship, beginning with their arranged marriage in the early 1940's, through the revolution of Mao, birth and death of children, loss of fortune, and ends in the early 2000's. It is somewhat loosely narrated
Jan 01, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book began very slowly for me. I was not impressed with the overly florid prose or the strained attempt to mix myth with narrative. The insertions of historical notes were awkward and sometimes baffling - almost as if the author wanted to write a nonfiction book about early 20th century China, but felt compelled to continue with his fictional story. In the end, it was a worthwhile read, but nowhere near as compelling as Wild Swans. Meekings certainly has potential to become a solid writer, ...more
Sep 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
I struggled with rating this book...3 or 4 stars? It had aspects of both.
On side of 3 stars, it was a long read that for some reason didn't captivate me enough that I wanted to devour it.
However, on the side of the 4 stars, I always appreciate a book that transports me so thoroughly into another culture, in another time. It was interesting learning about the lives during the Chinese cultural revolution, following one couple/family along their journey of re-education, love, family and survival.
Feb 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
To clarify why I am giving this book 4 stars: It is not a novel about love per-se, which is what the book jacket is selling it as. If you are looking for a love story, this isn't it. However, the novel is interesting in the fact that it covers a lot of history and lore of Chinese culture through following two characters, Bian Yuying and Hou Jinyi, from adolescence to old age.

The book is told from the point of view of the kitchen god, who makes a bet with the Jade Emperor that he cannot fathom t
Oct 31, 2012 rated it liked it
In 1946 a marriage is arranged between Jinyi and Yuying. Although he is her social inferior, he is an acceptable son-in-law because he is willing to give up his name and become a son to Jinyi’s family. The Chinese are looking forward to normality after the frightful Japanese occupation. But what follows is civil war, famine,hardship, illness and separation. At first, the bond between Jinyi and Yuying seems tenuous. However, over the years it becomes clear that something extraordinarily strong ti ...more
Oct 18, 2012 rated it liked it
This book was good but it seemed to get away from the author. I found that I lost interest towards the end of the just went on and on and on. I did find the characters compelling and I always enjoy reading about the Chinese culture. This story is told by the Kitchen God who is challenged by the Jade emperor to learn how the human heart works. He chooses to follow the life of Jinyi and his wife Yuying, from their blossoming love until their old age, in hope of finding an answer. You see ...more
Mar 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Finally read a Readers' Choice book from the library that was really good! Not only did the author craft a concise modern history of China(Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution, etc.), but he did so with language reminiscent of Chinese poetry. I've read many books on China, both fiction and non-fiction, and this one comes near the top of the list.

Loved the description of pollution: "...that had reduced the sky to a cataract."

Descriptions of aging: "It's when you're stuck halfway between gettin
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Play Book Tag: Under Fishbone Clouds / Sam Meekings - 3*** 1 9 Sep 04, 2017 08:02AM  
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Sam Meekings grew up near the south coast of England. He took an undergraduate degree in Modern History and English Literature at Mansfield College, Oxford University and, later, a Masters degree in Creative Writing at Edinburgh University. In 2005 he moved to China where he worked as a teacher and editor. He recently moved to Qatar with his wife and family to take up a post as Lecturer in poetry ...more
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“If it were possible to swap lives... the whole world would already have become an electric storm of flitting souls.” 2 likes
“And if it does not seem possible to see between the myths, the heroes, the propaganda, the hindsight and the tall tales, then do not panic: this is the way the house of history is built, and you are already locked inside. The door has no key, and what you thought windows are simply finely drawn pictures, blurred from the touch of too many fingers.” 1 likes
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