From the author of Three Souls comes a vividly imagined and haunting new novel set in early 20th century Shanghai—a story of friendship, heartbreak, and history that follows a young Eurasian orphan’s search for her long-lost mother.
That night I dreamed that I had wandered out to Dragon Springs Road all on my own, when a dreadful knowledge seized me that my mother had gone away never to return . . .
In 1908, Jialing is only seven years old when she is abandoned in the courtyard of a once-lavish estate near Shanghai. Jialing is zazhong—Eurasian—and faces a lifetime of contempt from both Chinese and Europeans. Without her mother’s protection, she can survive only if the estate’s new owners, the Yang family, agree to take her in.
Jialing finds allies in Anjuin, the eldest Yang daughter, and Fox, an animal spirit who has lived in the haunted courtyard for centuries. But Jialing’s life as the Yangs’ bondservant changes unexpectedly when she befriends a young English girl who then mysteriously vanishes.
Always hopeful of finding her long-lost mother, Jialing grows into womanhood during the tumultuous early years of the Chinese republic, guided by Fox and by her own strength of spirit, away from the shadows of her past. But she finds herself drawn into a murder at the periphery of political intrigue, a relationship that jeopardizes her friendship with Anjuin and a forbidden affair that brings danger to the man she loves.
Beautifully written, this historical drama is rife with emotion and touches of the unexplainable. I loved the infusion of myth into the tale, and found the author’s style to be rather comforting even when the subject matter turned bleak.
True to form we have many factual references to this time in China’s history sprinkled throughout the narrative, and I found myself getting deeply connected to our main character as the story did unfold. Although I do wish some of the secondary characters had been explored a bit further, for the most part the characters which played vital roles had a life of their own.
The loneliness of childhood is a common theme, but one given a unique perspective by Chang’s hand. I greatly admired the insightful way in which the author showed us many different sides of prejudice, from the very young to the very old, male or female, it could often come down to a person being afraid of what they don’t understand, and this is one of the many things Jiang doesn’t go along with. I loved that about her. Her spirit carries you on a timely journey through her life, showing you what it could be like to be different, and how very wrong we are when we treat people as less than.
I highly recommend to any literary fiction or historical fiction fans.
About Janie Chang