Duncan Jepson the author of ALL THE FLOWERS IN SHANGHAI should be awarded praise for his ability to walk in the shoes of Feng, a Chinese girl, in 1930s Shanghai. This novel was profoundly sad from start to finish, but the writing was so beautiful I was compelled to read page after page even when I felt I might split in two.
Feng was the second daughter in her family and for the most part invisible to her Ba (father) Ma (mother) and Sister. Her grandfather was her primary caregiver and perhaps her only friend in the household. At times her treatment in the house was cruel, most especially from her Sister.
Feng learned about plants from her grandfather and spent many hours in his company doing so. There was little care for her appearance and whereabout and that suited Feng just fine. Things changed in Feng’s world when she was on an outing to the public gardens with her grandfather and it was there she met a boy named Bi.
Ma and Sister were like minded in wanting more then life had given them. Ma had worked very hard to get Sister an advantageous match with the Xiong Fa in the rich and powerful Sang family. But something unexpected occurs and the beautiful and cruel Sister cannot honor her obligations to the Sang family.
Now all eyes turn to Feng who is now planning her future with Bi and therefore does not welcome this attention nor control by her family. But in the end Ma wins out and she is married into the powerful Sang family.
Sang Feng is forever bitter and placed into another family situation where her wishes carry no weight nor could she fight custom. Her actions and decisions she makes are fueled by this deep anger and despair that remains with her throughout the reminder of her life.
While I enjoy being transported in the pages of a book to places I have never been, this was a hard trip. Jepson does not candy coat the journey and the view of China and its society during the 30s, 40s and 50s was dramatic. The rules of the family/society and the culture poured off the pages with an authenticity so raw.
No surprise to me that ALL THE FLOWERS IN SHANGHAI was an Indie pick although still stunned that a male writer could crawl into Feng’s female bones. As I revisited a number of the chapters while preparing this blog, they still held the same tragic spell and I still had to reach for a box of tissues.