11790127Two down for JaNoReadMo.  I know this one is not what I was supposed to be reading, but to be fair I finished this one in a day.

I was tooling around at work, and while I was working, I saw this book.  All The Flowers in Shanghai.  It intrigued me, I had read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and loved it.  I figured I’d pick this one up and give it a whirl.

S’okay, but it’s going straight on the Donate pile after this.  Felt like I was playing hop scotch I was flipping pages so much in this book.

The premise of the book is pretty stereotypical.  Young woman from a older, ‘traditional’ Chinese family forced into roles she rebels against.  But whereas most of the young women eventually find peace in their roles and their lives someway, somehow; the woman here Feng just grows more angry and bitter as the book progresses.

Written in first person narrative, Feng’s family is very traditional in 1830’s China.  Her father is very quite and non confrontational, her grandfather was the gardener in the palace long ago, and her mother is driven by the typical all-consuming need of most ‘traditional’ mothers/parents: Ensuring their eldest daughter is married into a family that improves their own social status.  She’s consumed with this to the point where all the relationships between the women are bitter, reluctant and poisoned.

Feng’s mother has her moment of pride and joy when her oldest daughter, the one they spent so much money on to get her properly educated in everything that would make her more desirable as a bride, is finally engaged to a more prominent family: the Sangs.  Only Mamma’s dream is dashed when the older sister dies of cancer that the brilliant doctors of the age thought was a baby.  Cuz of course malignant tumor growths are SO much like growing pregnancies….

Anyways older sister dies and Feng is pushed into the role of the blushing bride, without mummy dearest explaining anything about anything, inside or outside the bedroom.  Little unusual, as usually brides are given veiled references of what to expect.  So of course when the time comes Feng is innocent of pretty much every aspect of marriage and is subsequently terrified.

Feng gets married, goes to her new home, new family, and of course is absolutely miserable.

Unlike most of the other heroines in these kind of stories, who manage to hold onto themselves and eventually find peace with their role as a mother, if not a wife; Feng finds no peace.  She gets pregnant, and is so consumed by anger and hatred that she gives her daughter up to some peasant family without even looking at the babe before it is born away.  As she says in the beginning, “you were stillborn to me”.

After a few more years of internal family social stabbing -er, climbing- Feng gets pregnant again, this time with a little boy with a twisted foot.  She’s made peace with her place in the family, has even become to enjoy her role as First Wife, but has shut out her husband in the process, leaving room only for her son.

Eventually a pretty young woman comes to work at the Sang household.  Feng sees her going into her husbands room one afternoon, and flies into an absolute fury.  Still filled with bitter anger, she believes this girl is trying to steal her husband and her son from her, and so she beats the girl with a belt and leaves her with permanent facial scars.

It’s only later that it’s revealed that the young girl is Feng’s daughter from all those years ago.  (Who didn’t see that one coming…) And of course everyone knew who the girl was except for Feng.  And instead of making that great personal revelation and trying to make things work, patch the holes in her family, reconnect and with the daughter she gave up so long ago, what does Feng do?  She runs.  She runs away to the country at the beginning of Chairman Mao‘s revolution, in an attempt to see a young boy she thinks she remembers loving years ago before she was a bride and hadn’t seen in over twenty years.  Brilliant.

She lives out the rest of her life in the country as one of the first of the big mass production factory workers, sewing clothes for the new regime before she writes her life story for her daughter and dies of consumption.

The end.

I just could not believe this woman!  I could sympathize with her at first, but as the book progressed she became less and less of a likable and relate able character to the point where I think I skipped most of the second half of the story just to end it.

There also doesn’t seem to be any real personal growth for Feng.  She starts off as an innocent girl, grows into a bitter young woman, but instead of turning into a wise and venerable matron, she stays stuck at the corner of Bitter and Angry.

I’m usually a better judge of stories than this, rarely do I pick up such explosive duds.  My ‘duds’ are usually “Oh, good story, but not as good as I was expecting, so I’ll donate it in a few months.”  This one isn’t even making it to the bookshelf.  It’s going straight to the most recent donate pile I have set up and in a few months when I cycle through my books again (I do so once or twice a year to clean out books I know I’ll never read again) off it goes to my local hospital’s library.  Hopefully someone else likes it better than I did.