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 hundred-year-old kapok tree in front of their home, wanting to see the mountain peaks in the distance. But Tao slips and tumbles thirty 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.
Read by Simon Vance, winner of the 2012 Audie Award for best male narrator and four AudioFile awards, the audio book also includes a bonus conversation with the author and her editor.
A Hundred Flowers is a novel rich in Chinese culture where heritage and pride are everything and how family holds
it all together in the midst of political strife and unrest. Tsukiyama plotlines are both political and emotional. I did find the political aspect a bit dry and slow so the emotional facet of the story was its saving grace and much more powerful in my opinion. Those interested in politics and Chinese culture would probably disagree but that’s the beauty of a story like this that can reach many different peoples interests.
When Kai Ying’s husband Sheng is arrested for writing a letter speaking against the Chinese government in a volatile time with Chairman Mao in the 50’s where there is no tolerance for dissension, she is left alone to care for her young son and aging Father-in-law Wei. Sheng is being held at an undisclosed location for “re-education.” Things go from bad to worse when her son Tao has a bad fall from a tree, leaving him with possibly a lifetime of issues with his badly broken leg. Their family is learning how to deal with this and the daily grind of life without Sheng to head their household.
They have an interesting family, including family by choice that they have taken in to care for. A young pregnant homeless woman is welcome into their home and Auntie Song has lived with them for years after an abusive marriage. Tsukiyama poignantly demonstrates the strong bonds of family units and how they can be the difference in life of true happiness and contentment in all circumstances.
This novel got off to a slow start for me with the historical background but I can see how it is a necessary platform for the rest of the story. I think it’s more difficult to relate to other cultures when it is so drastically different from what we are accustomed to. I believe that anyone with knowledge of Chinese culture will divulge so much more from this story. I also found it a bit distracting that the story was told by five different characters. It makes it harder to follow and even more difficult when listening to the audio version.
Tsukiyama has a depth to her writing that reminds you of the importance of family coming together in hardship. She obviously has great knowledge of that time period in Chinese history and I learned a lot about that era through her story.