For the second daughter of an ambitious Chinese mother, it’s suffering and regret all the way, from the class-divided 1930s to the miseries of the Cultural Revolution.
Simple but strong on detail and emotional intensity, this Hong Kong-based Eurasian author’s debut considers female roles and maternal bonds against the background of Chinese tradition, a recipe for disaster in the case of Xiao Feng, second daughter in a middle-class household. Because Xiao Feng’s sophisticated sister is expected to make a good marriage, she is left free to study flowers with her grandfather and form an idealistic attachment to a simple fisherman from the country. But when her sister dies, Xiao Feng must step into her shoes and become less a bride, more a prisoner in the opulent Sang mansion where marital sex seems closer to rape than making love. Falling pregnant and giving birth to a daughter, Xiao Feng is consumed with hatred of her circumstances and, swearing to be the last girl of her family, she gives the child away, an act that will haunt her future. Now she changes, becomes powerful and controlling, gives her husband a son but is swallowed up by history, which inflicts undreamed-of additional sorrow, alleviated only by late glimpses of redemption and restoration.
An unremittingly bleak story, delivered with some passion.