FLOWERS FOR MEI-LING by Lorraine Lachs


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 A sweeping novel about China that offers some impressive settings but frequently loses sight of its heroine, a refugee and former call-girl, in the long march of history. Newcomer Lachs is a skilled scene-setter and credibly evokes such disparate places as Hong Kong, Bandung, and Amsterdam as she tells a story that takes her heroine, Mei-ling, through them all before reaching Montreal--and security. The daughter of Emma, an English-born academic, and a Chinese professor, Mei-ling (born in 1949) is a teenager when the Cultural Revolution begins and the Red Guards attempt to seize power. Her father is publicly humiliated, then dies, leaving Emma to do forced labor while Mei-ling is sent to work in the countryside. On the train heading there, she is raped repeatedly by soldiers. Meantime, in Bandung, Indonesia, Dutch-born Dirk Verhoeven, a shady businessman, decides it's time to move his operations to Hong Kong. Once there, he meets Mei-ling and her mother, who have just escaped from China, and he not only gives Emma a job but pays for Mei-ling's schooling. When he seduces her and she falls pregnant, however, he decides to take her back to Holland so that their son can be born in his homeland. Though he marries Mei-ling, the baby is a girl, and soon the disappointed Verhoeven has the emotionally frozen Mei-ling working for his escort service. When he dies, she takes her inheritance, as well as her substantial earnings, and moves with daughter Juliana to Montreal. Now a respectable businesswoman, she marries David Levy, a professor, who is deeply shocked when he discovers her past. He and Mei-ling are not reconciled until years later when they visit Juliana, now a lawyer in Hong Kong, just as China is taking over. Literate and intelligent prose that is better at explaining the political than the personal. Poor Mei-ling never quite comes to life.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-7867-0414-4
Page count: 416pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1997