Sunday, 24 July 2016
With a title such as this, and a cover to draw me in, I had to delve into this book. I had no idea where Kashgar was, but I was soon to discover that it was an 'oasis city', the westernmost city in China, once a stop on the Silk Road.
Fuelled by a long time curiousity re other cultures, I settled in for what promised to become an interesting adventure back in time. 1923 saw two sisters setting off for a mission in China. Lizzie was the zealous one, Eva went along for the ride, literally, and to escape what she deemed to be a dull existence.
Their arrival wasn't quite what they expected. They came across a young girl giving birth beneath a tree. Not surprisingly, there were complications.. the mother was about 10 years old, and despite the best efforts of the sisters, she died, though her baby girl survived, The authorities weren't interested in the baby, but blamed the foreigners for the girl's death and put them under house arrest, thankfully with the baby.. or who knows what her fate would have been.
From there, there were as many tangents as there are spokes in an average bicycle wheel. However, there are two main stories interwoven which overpower all, and despite many red herrings along the way, the reader doesn't discover the connection till almost the end of the book.
The understories are beautifully written, the descriptions delightful but not overpowering, and most of the characters are so well portrayed that you come to feel that you know them well, whether you want to or not.
It's a clash of cultures, of beliefs and personalities and while we aren't taken along on too many bike rides, we sure are taken deep into a world unfamiliar to many.
Suzanne Joinson has made her debut into the world of literature with engaging and encompassing style.
Sunday, 3 July 2016
little hut of leaping fishes
This is a book whose title I wanted to change immediately to CAPITALS... it intrigued me from the start.
I've always been interested in other cultures, wanting to know how the people live, if they were happy with their lives, what impression the 'state' had on their lives, the good and the bad.. and how they worked around their cultural history to live the best life they could.
This beautifully written, complicated story, certainly gave me a lot to think about. Chiew-Siah Tei holds little back as she draws the reader into the lives of two babies, born just two months apart, in the dying days of Imperial China, in 1875... The grandfather of the two boys, half brothers, rules the province with an iron fist, as becomes a feudal landlord and an opium farmer. Yet, he has a special place for his first born grandson who is destined to become a Mandarin, whether he likes it or not... while the second grandson has a very ambitious and indulgent mother, who thinks her son should be the chosen one.
One chooses education to better not only himself, but his people, the other succumbs to the overwhelming power of opium.
However, this is not without lightheartedness, despite the various tragedies that seem to bounce around both boys and follows them into manhood. It's more about relationships, of mystery and determination, of overcoming the set paths that both were destined to lead and a very intriguing insight into the changing Chinese culture and the reluctance of the warlords and Mandarins to let the 'foreign devils' upset their long fought for rule.
At times, I had to take a breath at the apparent lack of respect for life in general and females in particular, then I was caught up again in the bravery of those who fought against it. I railed at the ignorance of the burning of books, as if that would stop the wave of new knowledge that was sweeping the country... and rejoiced in the meditation and peace found via the little hut.
It's a story of love and friendship, of brutality and savagery, of greed and generosity and so much more... all beautifully woven together in the tapestry of life.
Chiew-Siah Tei is Malaysian born. She went to study in the UK in the 1990's, then moved to Glasgow. 'little hut of leaping fishes' was her first novel and was listed for the Man Asian Literature Prize in 2007, Best Scottish Fiction Prize 2008 Readers' Choice Award in Malaysia.