Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Secret of a Thousand Beauties by Mingmei Yip

Set against the vibrant and intrigue-laden backdrop of 1930s China, Mingmei Yip's enthralling novel explores one woman's defiant pursuit of independence. Spring Swallow was promised in marriage while still in her mother's belly. When the groom dies before a wedding can take place, seventeen-year-old Spring Swallow is ordered to become a ghost bride to appease his spirit. Under her in-laws' protection, she will be little more than a servant, unable to know real love or bear children. Refusing to accept her fate as a "bad-luck woman," Spring Swallow flees on her wedding day. In the city of Soochow, Spring Swallow joins a community of renowned embroiderers. The women work for Aunty Peony, whose exquisite stitching once earned her the Emperor's love. But when Aunty Peony agrees to replicate a famous painting--a lucrative assignment that will take a year to complete--betrayal and jealousy emerges within the group. Spring Swallow becomes entangled in each woman's story of heartbreak, even while she embarks on a dangerous affair with a young revolutionary. On a journey that leads from the remote hillsides around Soochow to cosmopolitan Peking, Spring Swallow draws on the secret techniques learned from Aunty Peony and her own indomitable strength, determined to forge a life that is truly her own. 

I am definitely glad I stuck it out because the beginning of the book was a complete turn off. The story is set in a 1930’s remote village in China but the voice of Spring Swallow sounds more like an insolent Brooklyn teenager. It all start with Spring Swallow running away after her wedding to a ‘ghost’; the boy she was promised to while their mothers were pregnant. Soon she is in another town where she is taken in by a house of embroiders. She eventually ends up getting married four times while she is either running away or people are kicking her out or abandoning her.

 The story is superficially engaging enough to keep you reading but it feels superficial. There is no great depth to Spring Swallow’s story. Although terrible things happen to her and those around her, she and the story seem aloof and somewhat removed from the tragedies. But once I lowered my expectations, I enjoyed the story enough to recommend it while on vacation or at the beach.

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Roberta

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The old grey donkey, Eeyore stood by himself in a thistly corner of the Forest, his front feet well apart, his head on one side, and thought about things. Sometimes he thought sadly to himself, "Why?" and sometimes he thought, "Wherefore?" and sometimes he thought, "Inasmuch as which?" and sometimes he didn't quite know what he was thinking about.

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