All the Flowers in Shanghai: A Novel

All the Flowers in Shanghai: A Novel

4.2 8
by Duncan Jepson
     
 

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For every young Chinese woman in 1930s Shanghai, following the path of duty takes precedence over personal desires

For Feng, that means becoming the bride of a wealthy businessman in a marriage arranged by her parents. In the enclosed world of the Sang household—a place of public ceremony and private cruelty—fulfilling her duty means bearing a male

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Overview

For every young Chinese woman in 1930s Shanghai, following the path of duty takes precedence over personal desires

For Feng, that means becoming the bride of a wealthy businessman in a marriage arranged by her parents. In the enclosed world of the Sang household—a place of public ceremony and private cruelty—fulfilling her duty means bearing a male heir.

The life that has been forced on her makes Feng bitter and resentful, and she plots a terrible revenge. But with the passing years comes a reckoning, and Feng must reconcile herself with the sacrifices and terrible choices she has made in order to assure her place in the family and society—even as the violent, relentless tide of revolution engulfs her country.

Both a sweeping historical novel and an intimate portrait of one woman’s struggle against tradition, All the Flowers in Shanghai marks the debut of a sensitive and revelatory writer.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Jepson, a film producer and founding editor of Asia Literary Review, makes his fiction debut with a saga set in 1930s Shanghai. Heroine Xiao Feng must take her dead sister’s place in an arranged marriage to Xiong Fa, a son from the prosperous Sang family. After marrying, the mistreated, desperately unhappy Feng clings to memories from the days she spent in the garden with her grandfather and Bi, the seamstress’s son. Vowing not to bring a baby girl into the rigid, patriarchal world of the Sangs, Feng makes a life-altering decision after she bears her first child. When she realizes the power she wields in producing a male heir, she transforms herself into a wealthy, sophisticated, and ruthless First Wife. Unfortunately, the Japanese invasion of China weakens ancient social structures, and the world as the powerful Sang family has known it unravels. Despite the riveting story line, the novel suffers from awkward syntax, and its treatment of time (decades and wars are dismissed in single pages) hints at more familiarity with quickly moving screenplays than full-length fiction. (Jan.)
Booklist
“Jepson...evokes time and place well as he describes the life of privilege that Feng comes to take for granted only to have her life veer dramatically and be overtaken by the Great Leap Forward.”
Romantic Times
“Poignant and elegantly written.”
Hong Ying
“This story is breathtaking. Like a poem or a painting, it reveals the old Shanghai. It’s a great work that will move its readers.”
Qiu Xiaolong
“The life of this novel’s main character is splintered into thousands of pieces, each of them reflecting the changes of Chinese history, yet all of them coming out in Duncan Jepson’s poetic, passionate writing.”
Janice Y. K. Lee
“An accomplished first novel. Duncan Jepson magically inhabits the life of a young Chinese woman in 1930s Shanghai, following Feng’s unlikely evolution from neglected second daughter to first wife of the rich and powerful Sang family and her unexpected epilogue. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.”
Geling Yan
“A beautifully poetic story. Duncan Jepson creates a poignant set of characters and follows the journey of one woman who attempts to stop the cycle of history in the only way she knows how, but with dire consequences.”
Library Journal
Growing up outside of Shanghai, 17-year-old Feng is content in her role as the younger sister in a middle-class family. She is blissfully ignorant of the social expectations placed on her older sister and instead spends her time outside with her grandfather and a seamstress's son in the lush family gardens. But her pleasant life ends when she is abruptly forced into an arranged marriage with the son of a wealthy family. Feng is unaware of the expected emotional and physical duties of a wife, and the pressure of providing a male heir creates such distress that Feng is unable to cope and makes potentially damning decisions. VERDICT Although Jepson's debut novel is set in 1930s Shanghai, the author spends little time detailing historical events and place descriptions. Instead, he focuses largely on Feng's personal turmoil as she ponders life-altering choices. He does a solid job of voicing a female character, but some may find Feng unlikable because of her lack of emotional growth and inability to find happiness. Still, this would be a good choice for readers who enjoy Lisa See's China-themed historical novels.—Madeline Solien, Deerfield P.L., IL
Kirkus Reviews
For the second daughter of an ambitious Chinese mother, it's suffering and regret all the way, from the class-divided 1930s to the miseries of the Cultural Revolution. Simple but strong on detail and emotional intensity, this Hong Kong-based Eurasian author's debut considers female roles and maternal bonds against the background of Chinese tradition, a recipe for disaster in the case of Xiao Feng, second daughter in a middle-class household. Because Xiao Feng's sophisticated sister is expected to make a good marriage, she is left free to study flowers with her grandfather and form an idealistic attachment to a simple fisherman from the country. But when her sister dies, Xiao Feng must step into her shoes and become less a bride, more a prisoner in the opulent Sang mansion where marital sex seems closer to rape than making love. Falling pregnant and giving birth to a daughter, Xiao Feng is consumed with hatred of her circumstances and, swearing to be the last girl of her family, she gives the child away, an act that will haunt her future. Now she changes, becomes powerful and controlling, gives her husband a son but is swallowed up by history, which inflicts undreamed-of additional sorrow, alleviated only by late glimpses of redemption and restoration. An unremittingly bleak story, delivered with some passion.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062081605
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
12/20/2011
Edition description:
Original
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
801,557
Product dimensions:
8.02(w) x 8.52(h) x 0.78(d)

What People are saying about this

Geling Yan
“A beautifully poetic story. Duncan Jepson creates a poignant set of characters and follows the journey of one woman who attempts to stop the cycle of history in the only way she knows how, but with dire consequences.”
Hong Ying
“This story is breathtaking. Like a poem or a painting, it reveals the old Shanghai. It’s a great work that will move its readers.”
Qiu Xiaolong
“The life of this novel’s main character is splintered into thousands of pieces, each of them reflecting the changes of Chinese history, yet all of them coming out in Duncan Jepson’s poetic, passionate writing.”
Janice Y. K. Lee
“An accomplished first novel. Duncan Jepson magically inhabits the life of a young Chinese woman in 1930s Shanghai, following Feng’s unlikely evolution from neglected second daughter to first wife of the rich and powerful Sang family and her unexpected epilogue. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.”

Meet the Author

Duncan Jepson is the award-winning director and producer of five feature films. He has also produced documentaries for Discovery Channel Asia and National Geographic Channel. He was the editor of the Asia-based fashion magazine West East and is a founder and managing editor of the Asia Literary Review. A lawyer by profession, he lives in Hong Kong.

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