Epic events shape the fortunes of an unlikely married couple in a British-born, China-based author’s confident debut.
Narrated by a Kitchen God, this ambitious first novel maintains an affectionate tone while recounting the vast political shifts and horrors experienced in China from 1942 to 2000, in particular by lovers Bian Yuying and Hou Jinyi. Party to an arranged marriage at 16, Yuying is the education-hungry daughter of wealthy parents, her surprising husband a poor peasant boy. Yet the two quickly develop a strong attachment that will be tested by the multiple catastrophes about to descend on them. The Japanese occupation is followed by the chaos of civil war which the couple survives by moving to the countryside, losing two children in the process. Then comes the Communist takeover, with its purges, famine and Cultural Revolution. Yuying and Jinyi are both sent away for harsh re-education, leaving their children to be indoctrinated and traumatized. One commits suicide. A decade later, when Mao dies and the Gang of Four are arrested, the lost generation is allowed home and the couple returns to witness further immense changes. Interspersed with Chinese myth and legend, Meekings’ saga succeeds in evoking some of the breadth of the culture as well as the profoundly painful crucible of its recent rebirth.
An affecting, useful revisiting of not-so-distant events, capably handled by a skillful, empathetic storyteller.