All the Flowers in Shanghai: A Novel

( 8 )


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 ...

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All the Flowers in Shanghai

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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 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.

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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.)
“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: 782,789
  • Product dimensions: 8.02 (w) x 8.52 (h) x 0.78 (d)

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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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 5, 2012

    Not what I was hoping for, but still ...

    Despite having finished All the Flowers in Shanghai several weeks ago, I have been finding it difficult to write a review, mostly because I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about the book. I requested this book fully aware that the premise was not a completely new one. Also, while I have read many books set in China, especially dealing with the nature of relationships and the particular conditions experienced by women in that culture, I enjoy the genre and look forward to new stories along the same line. I was hoping, therefore, for a new perspective from Duncan Jepson, possibly replete with the kind of historical detail I particularly love. The main character, Xiao Feng, grows up in a household which includes her parents, sister and grandfather. The men are weak and ineffectual, both of them unable to place any constraint on the behavior of Feng’s mother and sister. Feng spends all of her time in the shadow of her more beautiful sister. Their mother places all her hopes of entering ‘society’ on Sister marrying into one of the most powerful and influential families in Shanghai. When this duty is forced on naïve Feng instead, she blames her parents, especially her mother, for the situation in which she finds herself. She becomes very bitter and her behavior leads her to an action which she comes to regret. One of the biggest difficulties I had with the book was the fact that Feng’s life was so isolated, first by her naivety and then by her absorption into her husband’s household. It meant the history of the time didn’t really come through in the story, because the narrator was woefully unaware of much of it until the end of the book, and even then it was still marginal. Feng herself is not a very sympathetic character, but at the same time, did understand the author’s intention to show that the situation she was forced into caused her to react the way she did. As much as I didn’t particularly like her, I have to admit that a sense of her character has stuck with me. I did enjoy the descriptions of the flowers and the use of that theme in the story. It added an element of beauty that threw the character’s personalities and experiences into stark relief. I can’t say I really enjoyed the book, and it is not likely I would ever re-read it … still, for some reason, I can’t completely dismiss it.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 15, 2012


    This book had me hooked from the beginning. Very similar to a Lisa See novel but told in the form of a letter. The way Duncan Jepson brings the main character to life is what sucked me in through the book. The only complain is that it seems the ending was a bit rushed as it kind of ends very fast toward the end... could we have a sequel please?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2012

    Great story!

    Heartbreaking and wonderful all rolled into one story!

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  • Posted March 19, 2012

    A Bit Unbelievable

    This beautifully written novel introduces a young innocent woman, Feng, who expects to spend her life walking in her garden and taking care of her parents in their old age. Her parents have not groomed her to do otherwise. However, disaster strikes and Feng finds herself in an arranged marriage and entering an entirely different life with few allies. Feng soon loses her innocence and becomes like the people who have tormented her but soon comes to regret some of her decisions. It is these decisions that define the later parts of her life.

    Though the book started off a bit slow to me, I did become engrossed in the story and invested in Feng's life. I quickly found myself almost tearing the pages to find out what would happen next, but I'm not quite sure how I feel about what I found. The ending was a big shift in setting from the rest of the book, taking me by surprise and I never really settled into it. Feng was a very interesting character who changed throughout the novel. However, her shift in character and personality seemed overly dramatic and extreme for the circumstances. She went from being so innocent that I would almost call her simple, to a conniving and manipulative woman who wanted others to suffer, but the transition was quick and reasoning was weak, especially considering the time and culture. It just seemed a bit unbelievable and extreme.

    I should note that the story is told in first person point of view (which seems unusual for historical fiction) and I found myself a bit confused at times because I lacked the background to appreciate many of the historical events taking place.

    That is not to say that it did not have enjoyable moments. The story was told simply, giving hints at just the right moments to keep the reader intrigued. Read this if you are interested in Chinese culture from the 1930s to the transition into the revolution. It is certainly a quick entertaining read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2012

    great read

    If you liked Peony in Love, Shanghai Girls, etc. don't miss this one.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2014

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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