A Hundred Flowers by Gail Tsukiyama, narrated by Simon Vance
Published in audio by Macmillan Audio, published in print by St. Martin’s Press, both imprints of Macmillan
“Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend.” – Chairman Mao
In 1956, Chairman Mao encouraged the Chinese people to share their real thoughts and feelings about his regime, in order to continue to improve the country. For about a year, no one did so, but then the floodgates opened and Mao clamped down. One man caught up in the crack down is Sheng, a teacher who lives with his wife, son, and father. Sheng is accused of writing a critical letter and is dragged off in front of his young son, Tao. Before long, Sheng’s letters stop coming and his family must live with the uncertainty -and in some cases guilt – of his absence.
Thoughts on the story:
Despite the fact that A Hundred Flowers is set at the beginning of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, it is really more character-driven than plot-driven. For quite some time I was wondering when things would really get going, but by the halfway point, I relaxed and just reveled in the lives of this family who had lost their son, husband, father to Mao’s Hundred Flowers campaign. As such, this is not a flashy, exciting novel; instead it is contemplative and sadly lovely, giving readers a peek into mid-20th century China.
Thoughts on the audio production:
This was classic great Simon Vance narration: good pacing, maintaining interest in the story. I do think I might have done a bit better with A Hundred Flowers in print, however. This is not the fault of the narration or the overall audio production, both of which are strong. It is more an issue of my own issues with character names, which I tend to not may much attention to. With Western names I don’t need to pay as much attention and in print I can more easily go back and forth to make sure I know who is talking or being talked about with non-Western names. Luckily there weren’t too many characters, but since I tend to zone out on their names that even the six or so primary names occasionally threw me. Still, Vance’s narration kept bringing me back into the story when I got a bit lost.
I might have appreciated this a bit more in print due to my own reading idiosyncrasies, but the book is interesting and Vance’s narration is great. Recommended.
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