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4.2 out of 5 stars
Under Fishbone Clouds
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon February 15, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
What is love? No, I don't know either. But the kitchen god, questing to find out (and to win a bet with the Jade Emperor) sets his sight on the lives and lifetimes of two young lovers, Jinyi and Yuying. He shares his finding with us, in a narrative peppered (or perhaps larded) with godly anecdotes. The result is indeed worthy of a minor deity.

Readers who are familiar with Chinese history will recognize the major events in the book - the Japanese occupation, the famines before and after the revolution, backyard pig-iron furnaces, re-education camps, even Nixon's trip to China and China's current economic boom. Around these are woven the personal story - the weddings, births, deaths, and homecomings of two entwined souls ('Souls' comrade? Ah these peasants and their superstitions). The prose is just as engaging as the story - subtly crafted and possessed of a remarkable perspicacity.

I can't believe this is a first novel. I could nitpick some technical flaws (not quite getting some recipes right, a few leftover British-isms, some things that are unnecessarily disgusting), and complain about the liberties the author takes with Chinese folklore, but these utterly minor distractions are swept away by the power of the story as a whole.

Wow.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon September 24, 2012
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Sam Meekings has given us a man and woman, Yuying and Jinyi, in the historical love story, Under Fishbone Clouds, a novel which takes the reader through their long suffering but loved lives. Although at times the turning of pages seemed to be exhausting, I struggled through and completed the journey by taking my time. In the lives of this pair and their families, Meekings showed us the yin-yan throughout their long lives, all the while givings us more mythology commingling with the history. I would't describe the writing as "lyrical" and felt the heaviness at times made the reading tiresome, but after finishing the novel, didn't think I'd wasted my time. All things considered, I give his debut novel four stars for its complexity and brave attempt by such a young author.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon April 5, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
"Under Fishbone Clouds" is a love story that starts when the couple is in their old age and flashes back to their meeting, falling in love and years of marriage. The backdrop for the story is the Chinese Cultural Revolution and all the hardships that implies.

Two of the main characters in this book are the Chinese Kitchen God, Zao Jun and the Jade Emperor (his boss). They have a discussion about LOVE & what it is. The Kitchen God decides to follow this couple through life to understand it. This is an interesting plot device which gives the story mythical qualities.

At times the Kitchen God can become too chatty and rambling but the story remains compelling. This is really good story telling.
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on May 29, 2014
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
A totally captivating, and incredibly different (and difficult) tale. The historical context is provided in a totally natural manner, and provides information and insight that are central to the storytelling. One would not expect the emotions, passions, and feminine point of view to come from a male author. An incredible endeavor, wonderfully innovative, and beautifully achieved.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
"This is a riddle, isn't it, Jinyi had said to himself; we are not reborn in other lifetimes, but a thousand times in our own." Coming towards the end of this ambitious but highly accomplished debut novel by Sam Meekings, this riddle encapsulates the theme of the book, which traces the love of its two central characters, Jinyi and Yuying, from teenagers in the early 1940s through death in the present century. As this period includes the Japanese occupation, the forced re-education of the Cultural Revolution, and the dawn of modern China, the story of these multiple rebirths is a stirring one, special in the intimate treatment of one particular marriage over the ravages of time, but at the same time paralleling the experiences of millions of other Chinese.

I only wish I could have enjoyed it more, but this may just have been me; I had to read it at a busy time when it would have taken a exceptional novel to truly engage me. Meekings writes simply and well, but did not keep me reading for his style alone. He tells his story as though from the lips of a minor household deity, the Kitchen God, reporting to his master, the Jade Emperor. Whimsical though this sounds, I was delighted by the traditional Chinese stories that punctuate the novel. But they somehow alienated me from the main narrative -- though I am sure that Meekings' intention was just the opposite and that many readers will see the interplay of reality and whimsy as an asset.

At the end of the book, the Kitchen God realizes what he must tell the Jade Emperor: "Truth, history, socialism, revolution -- all are illusions. Love is the only thing that sustains, that keeps people moving, that ties them to the earth." This novel has love aplenty, and it is heart-warming; history, socialism, and revolution, too. What will matter is how easily you can buy into the illusion.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A gentle story that unfolds over decades (starting in the forties), this is the story of Jinyi and Yuying, whose love for one another, trials and tribulations serve as a lesson of sorts for the Kitchen God and the Jade Emperor on the workings and dedications of the human heart.

The story does not move at a brisk pace, but that is not at issue ---- it unfolds and tells its tale at a steady, languid, deliberate pace.

This story was superbly told, reminding me of hardships others endure and overcome. Fans of Anchee Min and the prolific Amy Tan should enjoy
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 19, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I wanted to like this book a lot -- and I started out reading it and it was pleasurable. Somewhere around the third or fourth chapter I started losing interest had to make myself read it. There were some interesting storylines woven through the book but I found it too disjointed and difficult to keep up with characters. If I sat the book down for any period of time, I had to go back and read a few pages prior to where I had left off because I had already lost the storyline and had to refresh my memory.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Although the action takes place in one of the most cruel historical periods of China, the writing has a gentle, dream-like, lyrical quality that stayed with me long after I finished reading. I was annoyed, though, by the too many typos I encountered on the Kindle version. Some editor was reading too fast... I did not highlight all the errors, but here are just a few: "...and their faces drewer closer," or "They poor couple stared at each other.." or "...it would peck our eyes out us if we stared ..." This book deserves much better.
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