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by Gail Tsukiyama

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-20376-4
Publisher: St. Martin's

A saga of a Chinese woman in the WWII era—and sequel to Women of the Silk (1991). Having barely escaped China after the Japanese invasion, 27-year-old Pei arrives in Hong Kong with a bag slung over her shoulder, 14-year-old orphan Ji Shen in tow, and a list of names. A silk sister since childhood (the sisterhood is ostensibly a workers” union but is more akin to a religious order complete with a vow of chastity), Pei enlists the aid of other exiled sisters and soon finds work as a domestic. While Ji Shen lives at a boardinghouse and begrudgingly attends school, Pei acclimates to the uncloistered city, where she tries desperately to create a stable life for herself and the young girl she’s taken under her wing. Unfortunately, Pei is fired (though the evil Fong really stole the pearls), but she soon finds work as a companion in the home of the irrepressible Mrs. Finch. Allowed to bring along Ji Shen, the three build a cozy nest and a solid bond—the relationship between the widowed British woman and Pei and Ji Shen is the most absorbing of the novel—as Mrs. Finch becomes more surrogate mother than employer. Life changes again when the Japanese invade Hong Kong, sending Mrs. Finch off to wither in an internment camp, Pei to scrape by as a seamstress, and Ji Shen to learn the ways of the black market in bombed-out Hong Kong. One event leads to another: the war ends, Pei prospers and at last is reunited with a long-lost sister, though none of these events raises sufficient feeling in the reader to rouse a connection to the characters, ultimately failing to evoke much concern for the stoic Pei’s struggles. A meandering story that’s historically fascinating but emotionally uninvolving.