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Under Fishbone Clouds Hardcover – December 7, 2010

4.2 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Meekings explores in his accomplished debut the inner workings of a Chinese couple's marriage before, during, and after the Cultural Revolution. Told from the perspective of the Kitchen God, who has been challenged by the Jade Emperor to unravel the mysteries of the human heart, the tale begins in 1946 as Jinyi and Yuying are soon to be wed. Skipping back to 1942 and 1944 to explore formative events in each one's past, the story takes the reader on a riveting trip of unrelenting trials and tribulations ranging from the loss of three sons to enforced work camps to, in the recent past, life-threatening illness. Still, through even the longest of separations and hardships, the couple's love endures, proving that the human spirit can rebound from the most dire of circumstances. Meekings is a bangup storyteller, and his easy handling of rich and varied material--rustic splendor, class warfare, profound anguish, drastic social changes--will keep readers rapt. This is a beautifully told love story as well as an absorbing study in Chinese folklore and history.
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Foolishly, the Chinese Kitchen God speaks ill of the head deity, the Jade Emperor. For this he is challenged to discover the true workings of the human heart, and he carries out this task by following the lives of Yuying and her husband, Jinyi. It is his voice that transports the reader into twentieth-century China, where Jinyi and Yuying attempt to hold their love together through years of war, famine, and the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Yuying’s father, unwilling to allow other rich families access to his wealth, marries her to the poverty-stricken orphan Jinyi, who suffered through years of hard labor while traveling to the city in search of work. As their love slowly blossoms, Yuying and Jinyi are forced to flee as war sweeps through the city. Traveling to and living in the devastatingly impoverished countryside is a rude awakening for Yuying as is the Cultural Revolution, which does not look kindly on her due to her bourgeois upbringing. The tragedies and triumphs of their lives together are eloquently enunciated in the voice of the Kitchen God, who manages to tell his own story as well. As utterly engrossing as it is well penned, this is a wonderful debut about the lengths that love can take us. --Julie Hunt
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; First Edition edition (December 7, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312622791
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312622794
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,788,636 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sam Meekings is a British poet and novelist. After studying at Oxford University, Sam moved to China, where he lived for six years, working as a teacher and editor and exploring the country. He has published two novels about contemporary China, "Under Fishbone Clouds" and "The Book of Crows", as well as a volume of poetry. He currently lives and works in the Middle East with his wife and children.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
If this book doesn't attain the high readership it deserves, there is no justice. It's quite simply one of the most lavishly imagined, masterfully researched, exquisitely written contemporary novels I've read. And if that sounds as if I'm gushing...well, it's probably because I am.

Under Fishbone Clouds is written by debut author Sam Meekings, who grew up near the south coast of England and currently resides in China. It is absolutely remarkable that the author is under 30; the book is full of gravitas and maturity that is normally the result of decades of living and writing. Interwoven seamlessly within this mesmerizing narrative is Chinese folklore and myths - absorbingly told - in addition to insights into Chinese distant and recent past history.

This novel is narrated by the Kitchen God, a common household deity who is challenged by the more powerful Jade Emperor to fathom the inner workings of the human heart. He chooses to follow a couple who, like him and his own mythical wife, were caught in the whirlwind of history: Jinyi and his wife Yuying. The tale begins in 1942 when the two fall in love, in spite of their different backgrounds and their arranged marriage, and continues to their doddering old age as the new millennium takes hold.

At the onset, Yuying follows her husband across war-torn China to her husband's rustic and impoverished home. Bad times ensue, and when they eventually make their way back to the city, the Cultural Revolution has begun; everything now belongs to the state and all social strata are forced to undergo hard labor in the factories and the fields.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Under Fishbone Clouds," by Sam Meekings, is a heart-rending love story set against the stark backdrop of the last half-century of Chinese history. The Kitchen God narrates the tale. This introduces strong elements of magical realism that help to contrast and heighten the reality of the characters and plot. I was enchanted by the story and utterly fascinated by the historical details.

The book follows the story of the enduring love of Jinyi and Yuying. It is an unusual marriage between a rural, dirt-poor, uneducated, orphaned boy, and an urban, wealthy, educated girl. As they mature, their love develops an iron-clad tenacity forged by the turbulence of history.

Had I been more familiar with recent Chinese history, the book would have been easier for me to read and would have left a better impression. Indeed, I thought I had sufficient knowledge of this country and period, but my level of knowledge was not enough for this book. Many times, I needed to stop reading the text and consult a background historical text to more fully understand the context of what was taking place.

In my estimation, China is the third, and perhaps single most important, main character in this book. It is the complexity, color, diversity, ruthlessness, and vibrancy of China that remains in the mind long after the book is finished. Yes, the love story of Jinyi and Yuying pulls the reader along eagerly awaiting the next page. Also, the charming interspersed tales of Chinese folklore give the book its delightful tone of whimsy--a whimsy that contrasts sharply with the harsh reality of life in China during those impossibly difficult years. Enduring love is a strong theme, but it is China itself that muscles to the front and dominates the purpose and tone of this fine novel.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
An obscure, mild-mannered kitchen god accepts a challenge from the Jade Emperor, Supreme of all the gods, and undertakes an examination into what constitutes the human heart. He chooses as his subjects Jinyi and Yuying, two innocents about to be caught up in the huge unpheaval in China's society, starting in the late 30s - and follows their progress as a couple to the present day, not interfering at all but observing, with occasional comments.

This is a quiet, gentle gem of a book taking on a cataclysmic time in history. At the beginning, some of the old class system still holds; Yuying is the daughter of a well-to-do family, owners of several restaurants and a large estate with separate wings and several servants. Bian Shi, Yuying's mother, is the last vestige of old-fashioned Chinese femininity; her feet were bound at a young age, but she doesn't allow their crippled condition to hold her back, and she doesn't have her daughters go through the agony of foot-binding either. When Bian Shi's husband is elsewhere, she assumes command at his restaurants and brooks no foolishment. Initially against the arranged marriage her husband sets up for Yuying with a kitchen worker in one of the restaurants - he can see how the world is going, and knows he can't provide adequately for his daughter's wedding, or for a better match - Bian Shi finally accepts her daughter's new husband, seeing how happy they are together.

The story follows Jinyi and Yuying through separations and trials due to the changes rife in China during the Maoist regime. Through it all runs a strong thread of Jinyi's and Yuying's love for each other, never faltering, and the struggles they endure as a couple together and apart.
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