The Language of Threads by Gail Tsukiyama, 1999, historical fiction
2. What made you want to read this book? Did it live up to your expectations?
I'm traveling in books, and this one takes me to Hong Kong; also, I have read other books by Gail Tsukiyama and especially liked The Samurai's Garden, which I'm about to re-read.
3. Summarize the book without giving away the ending.
From the publisher:
Readers of Women of the Silk never forgot the moving, powerful story of Pei, brought to work in the silk house as a girl, grown into a quiet but determined young woman whose life is subject to cruel twists of fate, including the loss of her closest friend, Lin. Now we finally learn what happened to Pei, as she leaves the silk house for Hong Kong in the 1930s, arriving with a young orphan, Ji Shen, in her care. Her first job, in the home of a wealthy family, ends in disgrace, but soon Pei and Ji Shen find a new life in the home of Mrs. Finch, a British ex-patriate who welcomes them as the daughters she never had. Their idyllic life is interrupted, however, by war, and the Japanese occupation. Pei is once again forced to make her own way, struggling to survive and to keep her extended family alive as well.I used the publisher's blurb because it mentions a previous book about the main character, Pei, which I have not read. Nevertheless, I had no trouble understanding where Pei was in her life as she arrived in Hong Kong without her mentor as she also tried to mentor a younger woman herself. When they arrived, Hong Kong was part of the British empire. It fell to the Japanese in 1941, but historical notes say the occupation lasted only "three years and eight months." To Pei and her new family it seemed like an eternity.
4. What did you think of the main character?
I like books about strong women who figure out what they must do to survive, and Pei is strong and determined, even as she worries that she won't know how to manage.
5. From whose point of view is the story told?
Usually from Pei's viewpoint, but also from the POV of the orphaned Ji Shen, the British expatriate Mrs. Finch, and Song Lee, who helped the "silk sisters" who escaped the mainland and came to Hong Kong. Occasionally a section is seen through the eyes of Pei's sister Li, and in one section the POV is Ho Yung's. Ho Yung is the brother of Pei's mentor and friend, Lin, and his face always reminds Pei of Lin, lost to her before this book began.
6. Which character could you relate to best, and why?
Maybe it's because of our ages that I identify with Mrs. Caroline Finch, in Hong Kong because of her husband's job, but now widowed. Mrs. Finch chose to stay even when other British expatriates were leaving ahead of the arrival of the Japanese army. Pei and Ji Shen became her loving family.
7. Were there any other especially interesting characters?
I like Ho Yung, the brother of Pei's friend, who went out of his way to help Pei and Ji Shen. He was a truly good man with both connections and money, who was also the right age, so I watched and waited for the romantic interest. And then there was Quan, a thin teenage rickshaw puller who met Pei and Ji Shen at the dock; he was smitten with Ji Shen. (Smitten? Sheesh, I must be getting old!)
8. Did you think the characters and their problems were believable?
Oh, yes! How to survive on your own in a new and strange city, how to survive back-stabbing co-workers, how to survive the Japanese invasion and occupation, how to make the black market work well enough to have food and necessities for your family. Very believable.
9. Was location important to the story? Was the time period important to the story?
Yes, on both counts. World War Two, when the Japanese were taking over the Pacific ... and specifically, Hong Kong.
10. What do you think will be your lasting impression of this book?
I'll remember the friendships among women, those "silk sisters" who helped others from the trade as they arrived in Hong Kong, the way they all banded together to find housing and work for the new arrivals. Pei was not the only strong one in this book.
Rated: 8/10, a very good book.