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A Thread of Sky: A Novel Hardcover – April 1, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
When Irene Shen's husband of 30 years walks out on her, she says, Good riddance, only to learn hours later that he's been killed in a car accident. Stunned by the chain of events and dreading her imminent empty-nester status, Irene concocts a plan to strengthen blood ties through a family tour of China. But Irene's 80-year-old mother, Lin Yulan, in her youth a feminist revolutionary during the Chinese civil war, balks at returning to China, and Irene's three daughters—Nora, a successful bond trader; Kay, a social activist; and Sophie, a talented artist—are distracted by their own troubles. The characters are sympathetic and draw the reader easily into their tangled lives, but despite Fei's obvious talent, this debut has the feel of M.F.A. fiction. The hoary dictum write what you know hovers above every page of this novel. The story unfurls smoothly, yet never really touches the heart. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Sudden widowhood compels Irene Shen to try to reconnect with her three daughters: Nora, who has a successful Wall Street career; Kay, who is in Beijing studying Chinese; and Sophie, who is on her way to college. She signs them up for a two-week package tour of China that will take in all the must sees. Joining them are Irene’s sister Susan, a poet living in Hong Kong, and their 80-year-old mother, Lin Yulan. For Irene’s thoroughly Americanized daughters, the trip turns out to be less a chance to discover their Chinese roots than to come to terms with complications in their own lives. For Lin Yulan, who was a fervent revolutionary and feminist, it is a not necessarily welcome journey into her own past. Although the women don’t really experience much of China as they are hustled from one tourist site and related shopping venue to the next, they all achieve a deeper understanding of themselves and one another. Fei stakes a claim in Amy Tan territory with this satisfying tale. --Mary Ellen Quinn
Top customer reviews
On New Years Irene is alone wishing she had her daughters with her. Her sister Susan calls to wish her a Happy New Year and this starts Irene thinking on how their mother's eightieth birthday is coming up and they should recognize it in some way. Irene decides a reunion is just what they need - three generations of women together. Irene and Susan have never been close with their mother for many reasons and Irene seems to have her own set of issues with her girls even though she doted on them when they were growing up. Just maybe this trip to China is what they all need in order to mend relationships and realize how important family truly is.
Irene manages to convince her girls to take this trip although it isn't easy. She makes all the plans and they set off, meeting her sister in Hong Kong. As the trip progresses, the story unfolds. The narrative goes between all the women as they take a deeper look into themselves. Irene, Susan and Ma especially have interesting backgrounds having come from China when it was in turmoil as well as Ma having been a feminist revolutionary during the Chinese Civil War. The girls stories are interesting as well though as we learn how each of them has gotten to where they are now. For young women they all have some pretty big issues and you have to wonder how they got to the point they're at. It was interesting to see how the conflicts between the three generations of women came about as well.
I liked the characters in this novel and their interactions with each other were intriguing. They were so disconnected from each other and Irene was trying so hard to bring them all together as a family again. My favorites were the young women though. Nora who was very successful on Wall Street has so many issues with trust, Kay who has spent the year in China and seems so adrift not really knowing what she wants, and then there's Sophie who's grief is manifesting in an eating disorder. They were complex characters and I felt closest to them and the parts narrated by them were my favorite of the story. One thing this trip does for them all is change their lives. They each come away from it with different views than they had going in and hope for a better future.
I did enjoy this novel, particularly the last half when it centered more on the personal lives of the women. The author's writing is very descriptive and wonderful. I enjoyed the descriptions of the food and I felt, through the author's vivid imagery, that I was on a trip through China myself. I think for anyone who enjoys a novel that takes you away to another place while portraying complex family relationships, this book would be one you would enjoy. It would really make a great book club selection as well as their are so many different discussion topics in it like marriage, fidelity, family issues, and even eating disorders.
This is a well-structured novel - so well structured in fact that I could almost hear the author planning it, making sure to set up just the right amount of conflict inside the family, giving each individual a distinct personality, bringing in a history of the cultural revolution and a family secret and the struggles all of these women had with the men in their lives. Yes, this novel was well done.
However, there was just something missing in it for me and this is my personal taste. The story seemed too well tied up, the characters were real but just not really sympathetic and the family's hidden mystery seemed a little too unbelievable.
I did learn a little bit about China though through the eyes of a tourist and it was interesting seeing the sights through the family's eyes. It just wasn't deep enough or complex enough for \me.
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Once I started reading it I could not stop. The story and characters are well developed.Read more