In Women of the Silk Gail Tsukiyama takes her readers back to rural China in 1926, where a group of women forge a sisterhood amidst the reeling machines that reverberate and clamor in a vast silk factory from dawn to dusk. Leading the first strike the village has ever seen, the young women use the strength of their ambition, dreams, and friendship to achieve the freedom they could never have hoped for on their own. Tsukiyama’s graceful prose weaves the details of “the silk work” and Chinese village life into a story of courage and strength.
Book Review: ★★★★★★
When ever I pick up a book written by Ms. Tsukiyama, I always come away with a one word description — eloquent. This book is no exception. Ms. Tsukiyama has once again proven herself very gifted in the presentation of the Chinese culture, during very troubling times, and she takes the reader into another time, and country, and allows them to forget the world that they currently live in.
I am also passionate about her characters, and their growth and development throughout this book. She doesn’t present characters that have such extreme developments that the reader loves to either hate or love them. But rather, she presents characters that are driven by very real motives, and situations. Their actions are dictated not by extremes, but by necessity, and their choices, accordingly are veiled in the shades of gray that so often make up our world. There isn’t really a right and wrong, so much as the best choices that can be made under the circumstances of the time. And then the process of the characters having to learn to live with those choices. I love the characters of this book. Their strengths, their weaknesses, their passions are so vivid, and so real that I really identify well with them.
The story, which seems simple on the surface is complex for the challenges that it presents to the moral judgments of a modern day world. I hated the presentation of women, and the treatment of them throughout this book. But that is the story — not the weakness of the writing. And while this is a book about women — it is not what I would consider “chic lit.” This is a powerful, and moving story about the strength of women, in the face of tradition and a culture that dictates they are considered less than they perceive themselves to be. And it also explores the strength that is required to overcome that cultural expectation — or lack there of. Further, not only does this book deal with the victimization of women by the culture to which they belong — but it also deals with the simultaneous victimization of women at the hands of an invading enemy, that abuses them through fear, rape, and murder. And yet there is an interesting look into victimization as a state. The difference that is manifest between Lin, Pei, and Ji Shen shows that it doesn’t matter the source of the victimization — the process to healing, and the depth of the victimization is the same. Weather inflicted at the hands of an indifferent father, or at the hands of an enemy soldier, the crimes against women lead to the same end. And the strength required to overcome those crimes is the same.
This is also an interesting presentation of women not content to remain victims, but to rise above the abandonment’s, rapes, and murders to become independent and capable regardless of their past. There are many ways that women are victimized in this world. And this book explores many of those victimization’s. And it also looks into that power and resiliency of women to rise above these circumstances, and become much more than the world around them is willing to give them credit for.
This is a book that I highly recommend. I love Ms. Tsukiyama’s writing, and her story is one of depth, and remarkable insight. A must read, as well as a great historical fiction.
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