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Dragonfly Eyes translated by Helen Wang, from the Chinese original penned by Cao Wenxuan, #108 review

Publication date: 2020

A family saga spanning fifty years and three generations, which takes the reader from the France of the Golden Age to poverty-stricken post-war Shanghai via the re-imagined rural China of the Cultural Revolution.
Ah-Mei and her French grandmother, Nainai, share a rare bond. Maybe because Ah-Mei is the only girl grandchild, or maybe because the pair look so alike – and because neither look much like the rest of their Chinese family. Politics and war make 1960s Shanghai a hard place to grow up, especially when racism and bigotry are rife, and everyone is suspicious of Nainai’s European heritage. Ah-Mei and her family suffer much in this time of political upheaval, and when the family silk business falters, they are left with almost nothing. But Ah-Mei and her grandmother are resourceful, and they have one another – and the tenderness they share brings them great strength.

I have used up all my emotions on this book, I’m emotionally spent over the love I have grown for the characters. I am so fond of nainai 奶奶 (grandma) and yeye 爷爷 (grandpa) and Ah Mei 啊妹, who are the main characters of the story. Whenever something good happens to the family , I bath in the cheerful atmosphere. If something terrible and inhuman happens to the gentle grandparents, I sob. I sob and my heart clenched in pain for their unjust suffering.

The novel starts with a tale (one of her many tales) from nainai to her youngest grandchild and only granddaughter, the apple of her eye – Ah Mei. When I first read it, the writing style wasn’t very appealing to me. After a few chapters in,I got used to it and it felt like a grandmother recounting her adventures to her grandchild, it was quite endearing 🙂 Descriptive writing slaps differently when it is your grandparent describing every detail of their life -from worrying about money to simple pleasures to daily chores.

A Chapter that made me cry at 3AM was Chapter 11, The Piano. I truly felt the most of the grandmother and granddaughter love in this chapter, it was so warm and lovely like drinking hot tea during a cold storm. This book is so wholesome and soulful. It is a story of the hardship a family endures and preserves through love for one another. It is the Chinese blood of my culture and strength for 吃苦 Eat Bitter; eat oppression (bitter). 先苦后甜. Bitter first, later sweet; endure hardship first and better days will come. I’ve shed so many tears for this book. Even though it is a middle grade book, the aptitude of emotions that come with it is ageless.

It is strange how #StopAsianHate resonates with this book as though it is a parallel world. This novel is set in France and China from the 1920s to the late 1960s. When war erupts in 1930s , 1940s and 1960s, the family is put through a series of never ending trials of racism against their mixed French and Shanghainess culture despite the fact that they ARE Chinese.

Themes: racism, assault, coming of age tale, family love.
Warnings: Feelings pain and hurt for fictional characters that could be parallel to non-ficiton people in our lives.

谢谢,Thank you to @definitelybooks for sending me a review copy. 💜

Check out my tiny little Chinese Tea set 🐼

By elysianbooksish

The Bookish Faerie who loves to read and write, and bake too

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