Strangely stiff and predictable coming-of-age debut novel about a young Chinese girl's hardships in early-20th-century China. Protagonist Pei is Tsukiyama's rather lifeless exemplar of the difficult lives of Chinese women throughout history. Born into a typically patriarchal peasant family dominated by a cold father who undervalues women's lives, the adolescent Pei is sent off to a silk farm after a fortuneteller predicts she will be a ``nonmarrying'' (hence nonproductive) adult. In Yung Kee Village, Pei works alongside other Chinese girls and women similarly victimized. Many have been ousted from families for refusing arranged marriages; others have chosen family exile as a means of self-determination. Under the supervision of the warm, matriarchal Auntie Yee, these women form friendships emblematic of their new independence. Their nurturing community is initially untouched by the war with Japan raging miles away, and Pei is fascinated when some of her friends choose to enter a ``hairdressing'' ceremony and swear off marriage forever. But hardships intervene: monsoons, isolation, a strike, the war, and eventually fire and death disrupt the female commune. Pei returns home briefly to become reconciled with her parents, then symbolically sets off at novel's end on a voyage for freedom and independence. Unfortunately, Tsukiyama's narrative limps methodically from incident to incident; the book is more descriptive than dramatic--it feels like an outline, not a novel- -and Pei is too passive and unchanging a character to make the life-affirming ending resonate. Readers looking for a stirring story about Asian women's lives would be better off trying Sky Lee's Disappearing Moon Cafe (see above).