Thien’s novel spans the latter half of 20th century, looking at China through the multi-generational stories of an extended family. The political and personal reverberations of Mao’s Cultural Revolution and the student protests in Tiananmen Square are carefully retold by two young women, Ai-Ming and Marie, who try to piece together their family histories.
I have a confession to make: I almost didn’t finish this one. I tried to read it immediately following The Sellout but the two were so disparate that I need a couple of books break between them. I persevered on my second attempt as I was excited to read a heavily praised work by a Canadian (yay Canada!) author.
I ended up admiring the book much more than I enjoyed it. It is beautifully written and perfectly marries the personal and the political – it definitely made me enthusiastic to read more about Revolutionary China. Her use of motifs, recurring images, and, oxymoronically, untrustworthy omniscient narration was nothing less than masterful. I could see myself writing countless essays on these topics alone.
But, and it’s a big but, I was terribly bored by the end of the novel. Although I’m usually a sucker for a sad story, the melancholy and detachment with which the story was told left me cold. I only found myself really invested in the characters a handful of times.
I truly wanted to love this book more than I did and I have a feeling my opinion leaves me in the minority as far as it’s concerned. At this point I have read all but one (My Bloody Project) in the Booker shortlist and The Sellout and Hot Milk remain, by far, my favourites. Any other opinions out there? What is your Booker 2016 top pick?