Much of the fascination with this book for me came because of the setting: 1930’s China. I love historical fiction, and add to that the sense of ‘foreignness’ of the narrative voice and setting, and I was hooked. Read on for more about
Secret of a Thousand Beauties
Starting with a very simplistic style that may be off-putting to some, Mingmei Yip’s word use and descriptions seem to grow as Spring Swallow, the protagonist grows and takes steps to achieve some sense of independence in a culture that is so not prepared or accepting.
Spring Swallow navigates customs, interactions and challenges with a blend of ‘oh no way’ and ‘what other choice is available’ sort of approach, if an opportunity arises to avoid an obvious difficulty, she is willing to take it, often to her detriment. Starting with a betrothal to a young man who was dead, she is expected to continue and proceed as if the wedding happened. Her first real bristle against authority as she refuses to become the handmaiden to his grieving mother. Running away to a nearby village, she joins on with to become a protégé of Aunty Peony, a famed embroiderer. While it seems that a life is cleanly laid out where she can thrive, again the fates intervene and the promising life feels more façade than solid.
Mingmei Yip is not simply weaving a story of Spring Swallow’s history, she is presenting us a beautifully detailed and richly drawn portrait of life in a small Chinese village in the early 20th century, where customs and societal norms are hundreds if not thousands of years old, and non-conformance with one aspect of that life can, and often does, lead to sorrow, suffering, loss and struggle. From curiosity to concern, readers will find their own emotional investment in the story deepen and grow just as Spring Swallow learns, grows and shares her life. Utterly unlike anything I have read before, the descriptions, customs and daily activities were described and defined in a way that made sense for information and to the story progression. If you want something different that is far more a savor than a speed read – this is the title.
Title: Secret of a Thousand Beauties
Author: Mingmei Yip
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published by: Kensington
Published on: 25 November, 2014
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
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Set against the vibrant and intrigue-laden backdrop of 1930s China, Mingmei Yip's enthralling novel explores one woman's defiant pursuit of independence.
Spring Swallow was promised in marriage while still in her mother's belly. When the groom dies before a wedding can take place, seventeen-year-old Spring Swallow is ordered to become a ghost bride to appease his spirit. Under her in-laws' protection, she will be little more than a servant, unable to know real love or bear children. Refusing to accept her fate as a "bad-luck woman," Spring Swallow flees on her wedding day.
In the city of Soochow, Spring Swallow joins a community of renowned embroiderers. The women work for Aunty Peony, whose exquisite stitching once earned her the Emperor's love. But when Aunty Peony agrees to replicate a famous painting--a lucrative assignment that will take a year to complete--betrayal and jealousy emerges within the group. Spring Swallow becomes entangled in each woman's story of heartbreak, even while she embarks on a dangerous affair with a young revolutionary. On a journey that leads from the remote hillsides around Soochow to cosmopolitan Peking, Spring Swallow draws on the secret techniques learned from Aunty Peony and her own indomitable strength, determined to forge a life that is truly her own.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.