January 10, 2010
The Language of Threads
The Language of Threads by Gail Tsukiyama
1999 St. Martin's Press
Finished on 12/21/09
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)
In her acclaimed debut novel, Women of the Silk, Gail Tsukiyama told the moving story of Pei, brought to work in the silk house as a girl, grown into a quiet but determined young woman whose life is subject to cruel twists of fate, including the loss of her closest friend, Lin. Now we finally learn what happened to Pei, as she leaves the silk house for Hong Kong in the 1930s, arriving with a young orphan, Ji Shen, in her care. Her first job, in the home of a wealthy family, ends in disgrace, but soon Pei and Ji Shen find a new life in the home of Mrs. Finch, a British expatriate who welcomes them as the daughters she never had. Their new family is torn apart, however, by war and the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong. As Mrs. Finch is forced into a prison camp and Ji Shen tries to navigate the perilous waters of the gang-run black market, Pei is once again forced to make her own way, struggling to survive and to keep her extended family alive as well.
In this dramatic story of hardship and survival, Tsukiyama brings her trademark grace and storytelling flair to paint a moving, unforgettable portrait of women fighting the forces of war and time to make a life for themselves.
Well no wonder I was a bit hazy on the details of Women of the Silk. As I was reading this sequel, I couldn't understand why I wasn't remembering as much of Tsukiyama's debut novel as I should've been. I thought I had read it earlier in the year, but, no. It's been almost 3 years! Seriously, where does the time go? I really should have paid heed to the following, which I wrote in my review for Women of the Silk:
...But it wasn’t such a bad experience that I won’t go on and read the sequel, The Language of Threads, especially since I already own a copy. And, I doubt I’ll wait too long to get to it; I don’t want to forget too many of the details from Women of the Silk.
As it turns out, in spite of forgetting several details of the previous book, I thoroughly enjoyed this richly textured story of Pei and Ji Shen's experience in Hong Kong during World War II. The narrative voice alternates between Pei, Ji Shen and Mrs. Finch, bringing to life Tsukiyama's well-drawn characters with their steadfast determination, loyalty, love and friendship. As with Tsukiyama's later work (and one of my all-time favorite books ever), The Samurai's Garden, this earlier novel is a subtle and contemplative evocation of loss and survival.
For those who enjoy historical fiction, particularly novels that offer strong female characters, The Language of Threads won't disappoint. I enjoy reading about World War II, and especially liked learning more about the situation in Hong Kong and how it affected the expatriates and Chinese.
While I didn't intend to re-read Women of the Silk (and, therefore, gave away my copy), I do plan to keep The Language of Threads. When I'm ready to read it again, I'll see about getting the audio version of Women of the Silk to listen to in advance. Until then, I can keep reading about Hong Kong and Japan (again, focusing around WWII), as Tsukiyama continues with this subject in her subsequent novels, Night of Many Dreams and The Street of a Thousand Blossoms.
If you're interested in learning more about the author, I recommend visiting Bookreporter.com. Click here to go directly to her bio, article and two past interviews.