March 17, 2007

Women of the Silk

Women of the Silk by Gail Tsukiyama
Contemporary Fiction
Finished on 3/12/07
Rating: 3/5 (Above Average)
2007 TBR Challenge #3

Publisher’s Description:

Gail Tsukiyama lends her voice to a landscape of exceptional beauty in Women of the Silk, and she peoples it with figures of women striding together toward a dream of autonomy and self-determination – women, Tsukiyama tells us, who Do Not Go Down to the Family; Women Who Braid Their Own Hair. This is the story of Pei and Lin, of their struggle for economic independence through what was known simply as “the silk work” in 1926, in a small village in rural China.

It is the story of the evolution of a sisterhood, and of a community of women who turn each of their misfortunes into a point of embarkation and an opportunity for a better, truer life. Pei and Lin set out to spin silk and succeed in spinning the power structure of an entire town into a form so new that they are able to organize the first workers’ union and lead the first strike the village has ever seen. By the novel’s end they seem to be spinning not silk, but whole worlds, from the precious threads of tenacity, good faith, and abiding courage. Though it confronts the failure of human hope and kindness in a tumultuous and disillusioned time, Tsukiyama’s tale is ultimately of friendship, kinship, and love, rendered with exquisite grace, and with all the fluent, resounding dignity of legend or song.

This is the fourth novel of Tsukiyama’s I’ve read, and like all but The Samurai’s Garden (which I gave a perfect 10 in 2002), it was just barely better than a lukewarm experience. I enjoyed most of it, but something (dramatic tension, perhaps?) was missing. If I had enjoyed all her other books, I’d be quick to say that the cause of my disappointment was simply that this was her debut novel (and possibly not as polished as her others). 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. It’s definitely not one I would want to re-read. I’m still debating whether it’s one I even want to hang on to.

If you’ve never had the opportunity to read anything by Gail Tsukiyama, I strongly advise that you begin with The Samurai’s Garden. It’s simply one of the most lyrical novels I’ve ever read.

For a more glowing response to Women of the Silk, read Jana Siciliano’s lovely review here.


  1. I loved The Samurai's Garden, enjoyed Women of the Silk and The Language of Threads, and found Dreaming Water beautifully written and heartbreaking. She has another one out, The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, that I'd like to read.

  2. Anonymous8:24 PM

    I read this and thought it was so-so, too. Enjoyable, but not great. I should look up some of her other novels as they sound a bit more promising!

  3. I've never read anything by this author, but I noticed in reading your review that she has some amazing book titles!

  4. Jenclair - Isn't the Samurai's Garden just one of the most beautifully written novels you've ever read? I loved the gentle cadence of the writing, wanting to read slowly in order to savor each and every sentence. I'm looking forward to The Street of a Thousand Blossoms.

    Danielle - Yep. Just a big so-so reaction to this one, unfortunately. Not terrible or dull enough to give up on, but not terribly impressive either.

    Eva - I would recommend you begin with The Samurai's Garden, but then the others will be a bit disappointing. None are terrible; just not as good as TSG.

  5. Anonymous9:46 PM

    I read this for a book club last year, and had a similar reaction to you. I found a used copy of Threads a couple months ago, but I still haven't read it.

    If you're interested, you can read my post on the book here:

    Maybe I'll give Samurai's Garden a try someday ...

  6. Lesley - Seems like a lot of readers have had a similar reaction to the book. I do encourage you to read The Samurai's Garden, however. Very lyrical.

    Thanks for the link to your review. I couldn't agree more about the lack of detail, particularly with regard to the strike!


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