A Hundred Flowers by Gail Tsukiyama

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Pages: 288 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Japanese Literature
Goodreads Rating: 3.78
My Rating: 3.8

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A Hundred Flowers tell a story of a family living in China during the reign of Mao Zedong. During his reign, he introduced The Hundred Flowers Campaign where all intellectuals & artists were encouraged to freely express their opinions about the Communist party. Gradually, many intellectuals, students and artists grew bolder in raising their voices and once the criticism turned directly towards the Party members and Mao himself, the Campaign was abruptly halted and all the counter-revolutionaries arrested and were sent to prisons to be ‘reeducated’ – where Sheng was one of them.

Nothing much happened in the story, really. It is a very simple story of the everyday lives of Sheng’s family members which is told from multiple POVs which brings each character into sharp focus. The alternating narrators started great, but gradually it shifted too quickly, thus it felt less engaging.There are a few dramatic moments but overall the story revolves around the thoughts and hopes of the characters.I liked it, but that’s as far as it goes. Despite the plain storyline, I appreciate her simple yet gracefully descriptive writing style. I love Tsukiyama’s serene and peaceful tone. It was moderately slow, just how I like it. Slow but sweet.

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Even though there just wasn’t enough character development, Gail Tsukiyama has a way of creating characters that are inherently flawed yet lovable. One particular character of this story that I loved is Sheng’s father, Grandpa Wei. In the book, he was portrayed as a reserved and a quite man, which is completely different from his captured son, who was an outspoken and impatiently brusque. But throughout the story, readers may notice that Wei gradually has became more remarkably fragile and weary, which – until a secret was revealed – which made my heart ached. I also loved the part where Grandpa Wei went on the train trip to meet Sheng and met Tian.

Now, the encounter between Grandpa Wei and Tian sparked a question to my mind – Between national struggle and the love of your life, which one prevails? Imagine a situation where you are fighting for a cause, but your partner despise it because both of you simply do not share a similar political belief and struggle, would you leave her/him? This situation reminds me of Nelson Mandela where his first two marriages collapsed under the strain of politics. It was alleged that the separation was mainly because Mandela has always prioritized his citizens’ lives and struggle more than his wives. This situation can also be related with one of the Islamic legal maxims – A private injury may be tolerated in order to ward off the public injury. What do you guys think of this?

Alright, coming back to the review. A Hundred Flowers is a tale well told, definitely won’t be my last from Gail Tsukiyama. I strongly recommend this book to those who love a ‘quiet’ read, without the noise of the current world.