Saturday, September 08, 2012

Review: A Hundred Flowers by Gail Tsukiyama (audio)

A Hundred Flowers by Gail Tsukiyama
Narrated by Simon Vance
MacMillan Audio
August 2012
Length: 7.5 hours

From the back of the audio case: In 1957, Chairman Mao declared a new openness in China: "Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend." With many intellectuals fearing that it was a trap, Kai Ying's husband, Sheng, a headstrong teacher, promised not to jeopardize his family's safety. Nevertheless, one early July morning, Sheng was dragged away for writing a letter criticizing the Communist Party and sent to a labor camp to be "reeducated."

A year later, unable to understand why his beloved father has not returned, seven-year-old Tao is climbing to the top of the huge kapok tree in front of their home when his foot slips into the air, sending him tumbling thirty feet to the courtyard below. Kai Ying will never forget the sight of her pale little boy lying on the pavement. What if he never moves again? As resourceful and sensible as she tries to be - it's no wonder that most of the neighborhood comes to her for herbal remedies - Kai Ying has been struggling to care for her bewildered son and her obviously stricken father-in-law, Wei, who used to be a renowned university scholar. As the people in this small household seek a way to  move forward, despite uncertainty and guilt and painful secrets, Gail Tsukiyama brings us an exquisitely moving story of ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances with grace and courage.

My thoughts: This is the first story by Gail Tsukiyama that I've read/listened to and I found it to be a captivating tale involving Chinese history.

A Hundred Flowers focuses on one family and their extended friends. Kai Yung finds herself holding her family together after her husband is sent to a 're-education' center, days away from home, because of a letter he supposedly wrote criticizing Mao. As if that's not bad enough, young Tao decides to climb the kapok tree in their yard early one morning and falls - a fall that has him ending up spending some time in the hospital.

The story is told from five different characters including young Tao, his mother Kai Ying, his grandfather Wei, his Aunt Song and a young fifteen year old homeless girl who is taken in by the family. This allows each of them to share their point of view as to what is going on. Each of these family members must try to move forward with everyday life the best they can, even though they are uncertain about their future and are burdened with their own guilt and painful secrets.

A Hundred Flowers is a character-driven tale about one family's struggle during Mao's regime. It is also about love, redemption, sacrifice and guilt. As I mentioned it's the first book that I read by Gail Tsukiyama and I definitely plan on reading more of her work. Have you read anything by her?

Audio thoughts: A Hundred Flowers is narrated by Simon Vance and he is slowly becoming one of my favorite narrators. His voice is easy to listen to and he tells the story in such a way as to hook you in. He tells this tale with just the correct emotion and gives each character a unique voice.

I received a complimentary copy of A Hundred Flowers by Gail Tsukiyama from Esther at Macmillian Audio.



  1. I like Simon Vance, too. I've read a couple of Gail Tsukiyama's books. I especially liked Dreaming Water, which I read with a book group. Her books seem to make great book club selections!

  2. This sounds so good! I love Chinese history, it fascinates me. Great review :)


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