Silk, an ancient legend and family history tie several generations of formidable females together over three centuries in this conclusion to Yep’s monumental Golden Mountain Chronicles.
Beginning in 1835 and ending in 2011, the novel artfully weaves a tapestry made up of threads of silk production, Chinese history and folklore and immigrants’ eventual success in America, the “Golden Mountain.” Yep traces girls and women through to their modern descendants, who bear the collective memories of ancestors, each of whom had to make a heart-wrenching, life-changing sacrifice in her own time. Readers will learn about the lovely Chinese legend of the celestial “Weaving Maid” and her sisters (the star cluster Pleiades) and the annual festival held in their honor. They’ll also learn a great deal about silkworm cultivation and how the lustrous cloth was once produced by hand. Yep doesn’t shy away from some harsh historical truths: the pervasiveness of opium addiction, bloody battles erupting between silk-factory owners and independent weavers and severe exclusion laws. The earlier chapters, while slowly paced, are more interesting, as Yep deftly conjures the culture and spirit of long-ago China; the modern-day chapters fare less well, with rather clichéd characters. Overall, however, the author captures the world of women well, and lush silk is a prominent backdrop.
An interesting glimpse into a little-known aspect of Chinese history and culture and a fitting conclusion to an epic series that began in 1975 with the Newbery Honor–winning Dragonwings. (Historical fiction. 10 & up)