Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Village life anywhere has always been tough and China in 1971 is no different. The opportunities to get ahead are few and the collective judgment of the populace is swift and brutal. In The Three Sisters, the Wangs are The Family in their small Chinese village. Father Wang Lianfang is a Party Secretary and as a result the family's prominence is assured. At the novel's start the family has a new reason to celebrate. After seven daughters a son has finally been born. The satisfaction the Wangs have in this most fortunate occasion and their social status are both destroyed when Father is caught philandering. Within moments of the scandal breaking they go from being the local Kennedys to the Kettles. It is devastating in terms of their day to day lives and their future prospects.
Author Bi Feiyu concentrates his talents on three of the seven sisters: Yumi, Yuxiu and Yuyang. The novel is physically divided into their overlapping stories but as a reader it's also divided into ancient China, life in the village where their stories start and Cultural Revolution China, life in the city where their stories end. The events of the sisters survival, their meager victories and epic defeats are too real to be read as soap opera fodder. Their struggles to get ahead, to escape the devalued position the scandal and China has placed them in have an inspirational quality about them. So while the setting and culture have so much that seem exotic, the search for respect is universal.
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China than the novels of Lisa See.
Feiyu is completely successful in making Yumi, Yuxiu and Yuyang interesting and sympathetic. At times he piles on so much detail (As fascinating as they all are!) of the women's lives and China that it's work to keep the threads of the novel's plotline together. His reach for a sort of epic arch to the sisters experiences verses China's past and present is undermined by occasionally failing to grab a hold of their emotional lives. Flaws aside, I enjoyed reading Sisters. It was an enriching and involving novel.