Woman to Woman: Book Review

I'm two days late on this one, I know. And I have to confess that it's because I didn't realize what day of the week it was...And in fact, if you've been wondering about the lack of blog posting, it's to do with my head coming unscrewed, or the house disintegrating. Or something very like it. I'm in a general funk but also very busy. Chasing my tail, I think.

But I've been wanting to do this Woman to Woman since it was announced, because I've done some really good reading in the past few months. So, better late than never, right?

Does anyone else ever get into reading themes, like you read one book and it leads to another - not in a series, or by the same author, but a topic or a place or a historic era or whatever? I get into things that way sometimes. It happened in the last few months with books about China - something I have NEVER taken a very strong interest in and knew very little about.

But these three books are each very beautifully written, provocative, and tell so much not just about China, but have amazing universal themes of friendship, love, tradition, change, womanhood and motherhood. They are very different stories from one another, and yet very similar. If you'd like a little trip to China, I'd recommend all three in a row...

Snowflower and The Secret Fan, by Lisa See - In retrospect, I liked this book the least of the three, but at the time I read it, I was immediately drawn in by the writing style and the description of foot binding. The story itself is not necessarily dramatically climactic, but it is poignant and beautiful in its description of a lifelong friendship of two girls in 19th century China. The most touching aspect of the story was an idea that we might have friends that are our ideals, kind-of our Sunday best type friends, and then there are the friends who we need every day, to see us and accept us in our lowest lows. But we love deeply and need desperately both kinds of friends.

Spring Moon, by Bette Bao Lord - Billed as the "Gone With the Wind" of China, this novel is epic in its scope and offers a primer in Chinese history leading up to the social and cultural revolutions of the first part of the 20th century. It follows Spring Moon from her childhood to being an elderly matriarch and, just like Scarlett in Gone With the Wind, there are times that she might not be the most admirable person, but she is formidable and somehow sympathetic. I liked the contrasts in this book between ancient tradition and modernization, between fidelity and patriotism. And I was also shaken by the ways in which revolution changed not only an ancient way of life, but the individulas caught up in it - both those people who started it, and those who resisted it. This is a fascinating historical read but also a great story of fiction.

The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck - The literary classic of my three China books, this one, of course, is poetic and rich. It's a story of a simple man, Wang Lung, and a simple way of life, the ebbs and flows of nature and farming and politics and society. The images of the earth and the seasons, the contrast of the dirty, bustling city are riveting and touching. But more than anything, I love O-lan, his wife. The book is written in such a way as to make you feel like she is almost a side character, and yet she is not only central to the book, she is central to Wang Lung's life. Somehow, Buck wrote it so masterfully that Wang Lung, the other characters, and finally the reader, don't fully realize her strength and value as a woman, wife and mother, even as the last page is turned: It was a day or two later that I really wept for her, and a day or two later that I knew I'd like to be at least a little bit like her.

Of course, all three books contain a theme that I revel in: Mothers of boys are the creme de la creme. ::wink::

If you should decide to read any or all of these books, I'd love it if you'd e-mail me and we could have a quasi-book-club e-mail discussion about them - they are really so rich and enjoyable, and more so I think if you can talk about them with someone who has also read them.

I'd also like to know if you have or have had little genre fests - three or four books you've read right in a row (not by the same author) just because they piqued your interest in a certain era or place or subject. What books were they?

If you would like to see other participants' book reviews, you can visit Morning Glory or Lei, the hosts of Woman to Woman - they have Mr. Linky to send you on your way. A nice way to start or add to a fall and winter reading list, eh?


someone else said...

Wonderful reviews! I'm glad you got in on the topic this week.

Casey said...

I really enjoyed The Good Earth. I'll have to check out the other two the next time I am at the bookstore. Great reviews!

Ice Cream said...

I loved the Good Earth and think every woman should read it!
I'll have to send you an email when I get time to type more.

NOBODY said...

Good Earth moved me. And it stuck with me for a very long time, I thought about it a lot, long after I finished reading it (when I was pregnant with Aves)--that's one way I know a book is better than good. :)
Snowflower, you said it best with it not being "Dramatically climactic". That was sort of frustrating to me because I wanted it to be and when it perpetually wasn't, I got frustrated. But I really did enjoy it. Must have been the good writing. And the process of foot binding STILL makes my skin crawl when I think of it.
I don't read themes, unless my theme is, reading about China when I'm pregnant. I read Snowflower when I was pregnant with Danyo.

BAK said...

I have read one of the books on your review, Snow Flower, and I really enjoyed it. I know she has a new book that came out recently and I've been wanting to check it out.

I totally know what you mean about the theme in your reading. This summer I read Thousand Splendid Suns, and then followed it up by reading two more Middle-eastern based books, Infidel and Bliss, which I kind of read simultaneously. Reading them all over a three month period really opened my eyes to a culture that I don't know much about and don't really understand. I blogged about them, but I felt a little stifled about what I could say, because I didn't want my opinions to be read in a different light than what I meant.

Anyhow, thanks for the review on these 3 books; your review about the Good Earth is the second I have read in a few months; I think I should check it out.

Unknown said...

I do like to read about similar places/topics etc. After I read Into Thin Air, I got on a bit of an adventure/mountain climbing kick.

One you might like about modern-day China is Lost in Translation (not the same as the movie). I don't know why, but it's stuck with me since I read it 8 years ago.

Gran said...

Thanks for sharing your wonderful reviews. I will add them to my reading list.

I'm glad that you joined us this week. I will look forward to your next post with Woman to Woman.