A Hundred Flowers by Gail Tsukiyama – Audiobook Review

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.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
Indiebound: Audio/Print*

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Source: Publisher.
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Pearl of China by Anchee Min – Book Review

Pearl of China by Anchee Min

Life was not easy for Willow, a young Chinese girl in a small village at the end of the 19th century. Her family had little money, and survived mostly on what she and her father could steal, until her father was taken under the wing of Absalom, the white Christian missionary in the area. As Willow’s father was becoming a leader of the Church under Absalom’s guidance, Willow is beginning a friendship with Absalom’s daughter, Pearl. Having lived in China since she was mere months old, Pearl feels more Chinese than American: hiding her blonde hair under black wool caps and singing traditional Chinese songs.

Willow and Pearl grow older, but they do not grow apart, even when Pearl has to return to the U.S. for college and other life events. Pearl begins to find her worth and her life’s work in writing fiction about China, but fiction that rings true to the experiences of the peasants she has lived among for nearly her entire life. Towards the middle of the 20th century, however, there is a crest in animosity towards foreigners, and Pearl is forced to flee to America. After Mao comes to power, Willow’s life is threatened by her lifelong friendship with the writer who is now being labeled a cultural imperialist.

I was initially slightly disappointed with this book, because in some ways it was more about Pearl’s semi-fictional friend Willow than it was about Pearl S. Buck herself. However, as I read it I became enamored of Pearl’s story set against the backdrop of turn-of-the-century China. Although it took some time for me to become fully engrossed in the story, I soon found myself lost in the lives of Willow and Pearl.

What really gave this book a special heart, I think, is Anchee Min’s own back story with Pearl S. Buck. Min was forced to denounce Buck as a youth during the Cultural Revolution. After she came to the United States and became a published author, she was gifted a copy of “The Good Earth” by a reader. Buck’s story touched Min so deeply that the idea for “Pearl of China” was born.

Highly recommended for a look at the history of modern China, as well as of author Pearl S. Buck.

Buy this book from:
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*

This review was done with a book received from the publisher via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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