Kirkus Reviews QR Code


by Bi Feiyu and translated by Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-Chun-Lin

Pub Date: Aug. 9th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-15-101364-7
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

A second novel in English from the Chinese screenwriter and author (The Moon Opera, 2009).

As they grow up in a rural community, Yumi, Yuxiu and Yuyang must negotiate both tradition and Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Their village is named for their family and dominated by their father, Party Secretary Wang Lianfang, and they enjoy the status that goes with both their name and Secretary Wang’s place in the Communist hierarchy—Yumi even manages to become engaged to a pilot. But everything changes when their father loses his position in a scandal. Suddenly the girls are pariahs, vulnerable to every slight and cruelty a close-knit community can devise. In the latter part of the novel Bi follows his protagonists as they attempt to build lives for themselves in modern China. Despite its rather slender size, this book is epic in scope, and epic doesn’t seem to be Bi’s best form. One of the pleasures of The Moon Opera was its emotional tautness and compelling drama—like opera itself. Three Sisters, however, is rather rambling and aimless. Readers have ample opportunity to lose interest in the narrative while bogged down in minutiae. This could be a matter of cultural translation, of course.

The story and its details might resonate for a Chinese audience—or, for that matter, Western readers well-versed in contemporary history—but it is unlikely to captivate most English-language readers.