January 10, 2010

The Language of Threads

The Language of Threads by Gail Tsukiyama
Fiction (Historical)
1999 St. Martin's Press
Finished on 12/21/09
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Description

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.


  1. I read Women of the Silk and enjoyed it -- now I have this one too, but I should have read this one first.

    Glad u liked it.

  2. I haven't visited Hong Kong in a long time in a book. This one sounds like it could be a good read.

  3. I loved both books. I read then one after the other, years ago. Great review!

  4. Anonymous7:49 PM

    And now you've just completed the Japanese Literature Challenge 3 by reading one work from a Japanese author. Aren't they great? ;)

  5. Anonymous8:36 AM

    I hope you know I'm teasing you, not putting pressure on you, right? The Street of A Thousand Blossoms was the only work of hers I've read, but this one sounds better.

  6. I loved The Samurai's Garden, but none of her others has appealed to me enough to begin.

  7. I read Women of the Silk a few years ago as well, and have had the sequel on my shelf (unread) for almost as long as that! I remember thinking Women left too much unsaid or made references to possible plot points that went nowhere. So when I saw there was a sequel I was hopeful that some of those issues would be cleared up, but obviously I didn't care enough to actually read it!

    Now you've got me thinking maybe I should dust this one off and move it into the TBR stack.

  8. I read The Street of A Thousand Blossoms and enjoyed Tsukiyama's writing enough to want to pick up more of her work. I heard her talk about Women of the Silk and have been intending to read it. Now I'll plan on both of them.

  9. I have read both Women of the Silk and Language of Threads several years ago and remember loving them. They were the first books I had really read set in Asia that I enjoyed and felt I really learned a lot about that culture and time period. I have Night of Many Dreams and Street of a Thousand Blossoms sitting right here on my shelf to read someday! Alas...too many books not enough time.

  10. I've always heard great things about Tsukiyama. I remember back in the Yahoo book groups many people wrote fondly of her. Not sure why I've never jumped in and tried her work! It sounds like I would enjoy it.

  11. I loved the Samurai's Garden and have been meaning to read something else by her. Will definitely put this one on my list!

  12. I'd like to read this author, and these books in particular someday. Thanks for the reminder, and good to know you like them!

  13. Diane - This is the sequel to Women of the Silk, so you're safe. Go ahead and give it a read!

    Staci - I really like this author's prose. The Samurai's Garden is my favorite, but this one's very good, too.

    Teddy Rose - I just discovered my copy of Women of the Silk! I thought I had given it away, but it's on one of my bookshelves. Maybe someday I'll re-read both books, back-to-back.

    Bellezza - Well, there you go! I participated in a challenge without even trying. :) And, yes, I know you're teasing me. But I still might go ahead and join, especially if I wind up wanting to read The Street of a Thousand Blossoms. Or Snowflower and the Secret Fan, which I've had forever! Plus, The Piano Teacher by Janice Lee. OK, ok. I'm in. Just need to head over and sign up. :)

    Nan - I don't think any are quite as good as The Samurai's Garden, but this one comes pretty close.

    Lesley - Yes, Women of the Silk left a lot of loose ends. And The Language of Threads tried to provide a good back story, but fell a little short. Maybe the two books would have been better off as one long saga.

    Lisa - Read them, but don't miss out on The Samurai's Garden. That's a gem of a book!

    Kim - Yep. I think I say that every single day. Too many books...

    Andi - I think it was the Yahoo group that got me interested in her writing. As I recall, I read The Samurai's Garden back when I was involved with OTPS. You may enjoy that one better than The Language of Threads.

    Iliana - Seems everyone who read it, loved The Samurai's Garden. I hope one of her more recent books is as good. Of course, I can always re-read Samurai.

    Tara - I think they'd be good to listen to on audio, as well. I hope you get a chance to read some of them. They seem like your type of book.

  14. Anonymous6:06 AM

    Okay, my friend, I'll count you in. Sadly, it ends January 30 even though you did qualify as completing it. I hope with all my heart you'll feel like being a part of the Japanese Literature Challenge 4 when it comes around again in July. I need you!

  15. Bellezza - Oh, don't count me in! I didn't officially sign up and to join a week before the closing is really unfair. I'll save my Japanese books and join in July. I promise!

  16. I have several books by this author and haven't read one yet! So, you highly recommend The Samurai's Garden, huh? Maybe I'll start there. :)

  17. Joy - Yep, The Samurai's Garden is fabulous. Not an action-packed story, though. Very lyrical and somewhat slow. Not in the negative sense, though. Contemplative, perhaps? I savored each and every sentence.


I may not answer your comments in a timely fashion, but I always answer. Check back soon!