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A powerful new novel about an ordinary family facing extraordinary times at the start of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
China, 1957: Chairman Mao has declared a new openness in society. “Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend.” Many intellectuals fear it is only a trick, and Kai Ying’s husband, Sheng, a teacher, has promised not to jeopardize their safety or that of their young son, Tao. But one July morning, just before his sixth birthday, Tao watches helplessly as Sheng is dragged away for writing a letter criticizing the Communist Party and sent to a labor camp for “reeducation”.
A year later, still missing his father desperately, Tao climbs to the top of the 100-year-old kapok tree in front of their home, wanting to see the mountain peaks in the distance. But Tao slips and tumbles 30 feet to the courtyard below, badly breaking his leg. As Kai Ying struggles to hold her small family together in the face of this shattering reminder of her husband’s absence, other members of the household must face their own guilty secrets and strive to find peace in a world where the old sense of order is falling. Once again, Tsukiyama brings us a powerfully moving story of ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances with grace and courage.
This is the story of a Chinese family whose father and grandfather were part of the educated class in 1957 when Mao Tse Tung said that there should be “a hundred flowers” meaning people should feel free to criticize constructively the Communist party. But when people did, he had them arrested and sent for “re-education to labor camps. They arrested Shenn for sending such a letter. It turned out his father wrote the letter, but Shen took the punishment because he knew his father would never be able to survive labor camp. Shenn’s wife, Kai Ying, and his son, Tao, were very angry when they found out what happened. This family, taking in others who needed help as well, were surviving the grief of living without their father/husband/son. A very good book showing the very beginning of what turned out to be a nightmare history for China for the next 30 years. The author is interviewed at the end of the book.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
When Mao Tse-Tung came into power in China he was supposedly improving the living conditions in China so that things would be more equal for all the people. In 1956, he instituted a new policy where he asked the people to help him with ideas to accomplish this goal. He said: "Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend." BUT, after a few months of ideas asking for changes involving changing Mao's policies, a reign of dictatorship began that eventually ended in millions of citizen deaths in China.
As this story begins, Mao has just decided it's his way or no way. He ordered the round up of the intellectuals, wealthy families, artists, and everyone who dared to express anything but praise of Mao and his policies. The other citizens in China are finding their living standards plummet. Private homes are forced into homes for multiply families. Food is by coupons only, and it's becoming less and less available.
Gail Tsukiyama focuses her story on one family and their extended friends. Kai Yung finds herself holding her family together after her husband is sent to a 're-education' center, days away from home, because of a letter criticizing Mao.
I found the relationships in this little circle to be the best part of this difficult, terrible, but life affirming story. Kai Ying is already a herbalist that the community depends upon to cure ills and pains. She is a devoted mother to her 6 year old son; comforting daughter in law; and friend to all, including a run away pregnant fifteen year old who takes up residence in her home. Her fervent hope is that her husband is safe and will return home soon, but after only two letter, and months and months away from home, her hope is more and more difficult to maintain.
This family's story was very engaging!! There were a few great conflicts, traumas, and courageous acts that greatly added to the dramatic interest of this story, but mostly it's about a family seeking peace and hope in situations of great conflicts beyond their control in 1958, Mao's China.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Has A Hundred Flowers turned you off from other books in this genre?
What didn’t you like about Simon Vance’s performance?
It was emotionless and bland.
Any additional comments?
I stopped listening because of the accumulation of historical errors. The hospital scene, in particular, is one from today's modern hospitals not late 1950s China or anywhere in the world. The story was not engaging enough to overcome the sloppiness of the writing.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful
What did you like best about this story?
I love learning about different cultures. The story was interesting and while every detail may not be historically accurate it gave me a better understanding of how people dealt with the cultural revolution in China. I loved the different characters.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
I loved this book and learning about Mao's Hundred Flowers Campaign. The book was engaging and flowed. The characters came to life for me, and I became attached to them. Simon Vance is a wonderful narrator.
I want to listen to more of Gail Tsukiyama's books.
If you could sum up A Hundred Flowers in three words, what would they be?
absolutely engaging story
What was one of the most memorable moments of A Hundred Flowers?
The fact that Simon Vance narrated it. I love his<br/>wonderful voice! He is enchanting!
Which character – as performed by Simon Vance – was your favorite?
If you could take any character from A Hundred Flowers out to dinner, who would it be and why?
The Grandfather because he has so much knowledge <br/>and historical value! He is so wise and<br/>insightful.
Any additional comments?
I am really into Asian history at this time.<br/>It is spell-binding and beautiful.
Is there anything you would change about this book?
I've read and enjoyed other books by Gail Tsukiyama, and I've read many narratives of the Cultural Revolution, fiction and non-fiction. Although I finished this book, it wasn't especially gripping. Nevertheless, it adds fresh voices to the stories of this time period, and the writing is good.
Would you be willing to try another book from Gail Tsukiyama? Why or why not?
Yes, I'd read more by Tsukiyama, she's a gifted writer.
Have you listened to any of Simon Vance’s other performances before? How does this one compare?
I heard him first reading the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, so I really identify him with those stories. Although I don't really like listening to UK English, he reads well.
Did A Hundred Flowers inspire you to do anything?
Continue learning about this time period.