ebook, 432 pages.
Read from January 1, 2017 to February 8, 2017.
This should have been published yesterday, my apologies. This novel showed up on my radar as it has recently won the Giller Prize and was also nominated for the Booker Prize. Once I read the premise, I was excited to see what this historical-fiction would hold.
Marie (Li-Ling) is a first-generation Canadian who is unfolding the story of two different generations of her family. Her family, originally from China, lived through the Mao Cultural Revolutions and the following generation was there for the Tiananmen Square protests. When her estranged older cousin Ai-Ming comes to live with after escaping the aftermath of the protests in China, Marie starts to learn more about her father, Kai, and her Uncle Sparrow who is Ai-Ming’s father, through a series of notebooks. Sparrow and Kai were both accomplished musicians, with Sparrow being a genius composer. The two of them shared an immensely close bond. Kai moved to Canada and started a family while Sparrow remained in China and gave up composing. In secret, Kai went to visit his friend and never returned after taking his own life. The notebook also details countless other family members and their tragic stories in China during these tumultuous times in history.
If the description of this novel seems convoluted, it’s because the plot line is too. The storyline jumps around a lot and it is hard to keep track of the numerous family members in the story. There are also extensive conversations about music and composers, which I imagine would be great if you were familiar with them, but as I am not, I found parts of this novel to be extremely dry. I felt very frustrated with this novel. On one part, the historical aspects and scenes of this story are outstanding. Thein creates some phenomenal imagery and at times I felt as I deeply immersed in the story. There are also some very memorable characters and relationships in the book but you had to wade through a family tree to get to ones that mattered. I do not feel that this story was told as well as it could have been. The notebook concept was not delivered very well and at times I felt confused and bored by what I was reading, which is a reflection of how long this novel to me. The story and concept of this novel are award-winning, however, the writing is not.
I can say that there were times I considered putting this book down, however, there are some golden scenes in this book that made up for it, the ending especially. This book is still worth reading and I would recommend it to history buffs or historical fiction fans.