Email this review


Letters of increasing brilliance and complexity by a Chinese mother at the turn of the century. Kwei-li's husband--educated in England and America--travels often and far from the young bride's home in Soochow, and so she writes him many sighing letters describing home life, the gardens, her longing for him, and her life with his mother, the August One. Kwei-li is proud of her little bound feet (""golden lilies""), which might fit into a teacup and which ensure her helpless femininity. But life sweeps through the courtyard. Poor relatives show up for rice; her baby son gets typhus and dies; and much of the heart goes out of her. Were this all, this book could be left safely on the shelf. But the letters pick up, after a gap of 25 years, and are now addressed to the far off August One and describe the amazing cultural and economic changes wrought by foreigners. China is dissolving before Kwei-li's eyes. Her own daughter--at her father's request--has not had her feet bound and now in a single stride covers five times the ground her mother covers beside her--which humiliates Kwei-li--and the daughter wants to become a doctor! A son breaks off his education abroad, returns to work for the revolution. And stuffed with Western ways, he asks his mother's help in courting a nubile neighbor; Kwei-li, aghast at being denied her proper role in arranging her son's marriage, agrees reluctantly, later is overjoyed at her prospective daughter-in-law. Then her son is arrested, convicted of throwing an assassin's bomb, and released when the true assassin is found. Throughout all this, Kwei-li's X-ray vision works at full intensity in showing the vomitous mores of Western women, the greed of their men, the ambitions of invading Japanese businessmen. Her vision is rinsed forever of its ghosts of time past. Light tea that darkens bitterly in the cup.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Viking