The Skinny: If you like Asian historical fiction, this is the book for you!
Feng, the undesirable second daughter, is forced into an arranged marriage after her older sister dies. As she adjusts to her rigid new life, Feng navigates familial politics, marital relations, and elite society. A once shy girl transforms into a social butterfly in this cultural tale of heartache and betrayal.
The first half of the novel, which focuses on Feng’s transition and development, is significantly more interesting than the second bit. Organizing events, relating to characters, and understanding Shanghai were all difficult endeavors. The character development was poor, and I felt letdown after reading the richness of the initial chapters. Feng is so inexperienced that she has no knowledge of the intricacies of a marriage and what it entails. Within a few short chapters, this naïve girl transforms from a petrified rabbit to Dita Von Teese. This development is so unrealistic that I had to reread a few chapters to ensure that my memory was correct. I often felt like I was reading a story of a woman who had a mental illness. Her emotions and actions are frenzied and unpredictable, and I had difficulty understanding her motives.
I really wanted to like this story. As embarrassing as it is to admit, I have not read a lot of literature set in China. Last summer, I went through a Russian literature phase in which I refused to read anything by an author who did not have an N, K, or Y in his name. All the Flowers in Shanghai was set to be my training wheels, but I must confess that I am loath to take up the genre.
Though I did not care for much of the book, Jepson is a good writer and is capable of telling a compelling story. This book was not for me, but I encourage you to read it if you are interested in Chinese culture.
*The publisher kindly set me a copy to review.