February Flowers

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Overview

Set in modern China, February Flowers tells the stories of two young women's journeys to self-discovery and reconciliation with the past.

Seventeen-year-old Ming and twenty-four-year-old Yan have very little in common other than studying at the same college. Ming, idealistic and preoccupied, lives in her own world of books, music, and imagination. Yan, by contrast, is sexy but cynical, beautiful but wild, with no sense of home. When the two meet and become friends, Ming's world ...

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Overview

Set in modern China, February Flowers tells the stories of two young women's journeys to self-discovery and reconciliation with the past.

Seventeen-year-old Ming and twenty-four-year-old Yan have very little in common other than studying at the same college. Ming, idealistic and preoccupied, lives in her own world of books, music, and imagination. Yan, by contrast, is sexy but cynical, beautiful but wild, with no sense of home. When the two meet and become friends, Ming's world is forever changed. But their differences in upbringing and ideology ultimately drive them apart, leaving each to face her dark secret alone.

Insightful, sophisticated, and rich with complex characters, February Flowers captures a society torn between tradition and modernity, dogma and freedom. It is a meditation on friendship, family, love, loss, and redemption and how a background shapes a life.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An exquisitely beautiful book about that uncertain border between girlhood and womanhood, between passion and desire, a country only too familiar to all women. Fan Wu's story swept me away." — Sandra Cisneros, bestselling author of House on Mango Street

"Characters, plot, and Chinoiserie combine in a debut novel that shines...animated by unforgettable characters, and infused with emotional honesty, Fan Wu's first novel is moving, sexy, and impossible to put down. Her style is deceptively simple, her prose confident, clear and precise...a brilliant debut." —The Bulletin (Australia)

"An original and unforgettable story. Just like the flowers referred to in the title, Fan Wu's novel is brimming with passion, vitality, and hope. The girls in this book are the daughters and granddaughters of The Good Women of China, and are products of the society both modern, expansive, and communistically introvert." —Xinran, author of The Good Women of China

"A novel that takes us inside contemporary China by a keen-eyed Chinese writer who knows English inside-out." - Alan Cheuse, author of The Light Possessed and The Fires

"On its surface February Flowers is a swift coming of age tale about an obsessive friendship between opposites at a college in Guangzhou. Ming is shy, naïve, bookish and new to city life while Yan is bold, wild, magnetic and eager to corrupt. But beneath the surface tension and attraction between these two memorable young women is a story about contemporary China and the push and pull between tradition and modernity, communism and capitalism, constraint and freedom. Fan Wu is a gifted writer and a promising new voice, and her characters come alive in this wonderful debut novel." —Porter Shreve, author of Drives Like a Dream and The Obituary Writer

"Fan Wu quietly and unobtrusively conveys the seismic shifts that Chinese society has undergone in a matter of decades...this subtle and deftly paced novel is, ultimately, less a story about sexual awakening than sheer awakening..." — The Observer (UK)

"A novel that turns its eye away from imagined audiences and keeps it trained on the story at hand...the ease with which it (the novel) shakes off the voiceover of memoir, with all its intonations of latterly won wisdom, and enters the past as it was lived, in real-time and without the props of hindsight. As compelling is the way in which the two friends become emblematic of China as it was then." — Financial Times Book Review (UK)

"This first novel (February Flowers) commands our attention if we want to understand contemporary China...Yan is perhaps...the bipolar characteristics of contemporary China, and its unique brand of market Stalinism, modernity and tradition." —The Tablet (UK)

"Fresh and original..." — The Age (Australia)

"A fresh, original work that strikes a fine balance between intimacy and restraint, and shatters several stereotypes along the way....The author's control of her subject matter is impressive, capturing perfectly the claustrophobia and obsessive passion that youthful friendships can assume...The novel's ultimate appeal, however, lies in the universality of its themes-the pain and pleasure of growing up, and the discovery of sex and the accompanying wonder and fear; few will not recall their own adolescent pangs while reading February Flowers." —The Asian Review of Books

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416549437
  • Publisher: Washington Square Press
  • Publication date: 8/7/2007
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 0.70 (h) x 8.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Fan Wu grew up on a state-run farm in southern China, where her parents were exiled during the Cultural Revolution. Her debut novel, February Flowers, has been translated into eight languages, and her short fiction, besides being anthologized and nominated for the Pushcart Prize, has appeared in Granta, The Missouri Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. Wu holds an M.A. from Stanford University and currently lives in Santa Clara, California. Please visit her website at www.fanwuwrites.com.

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Read an Excerpt

February Flowers


By Fan Wu

Washington Square Press

Copyright © 2007 Fan Wu
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781416549437

After my marriage ends I move to a one-bedroom apartment five blocks from the university where I studied twelve years ago. The grayish building, stuccoed, slanting slightly to the right, is a conversion from a single-family house owned by a grocery store proprietor -- now the landlord -- and has six units. Mine is on the top but the view is blocked by a forest of half-built commercial highrises. The landlord wants me to sign a one-year lease, but I have agreed only to a six-month term. I know her apartment building, like other shabby two to three-story buildings in the neighborhood, will be torn down and replaced by another highrise in less than a year.

I could have lived in the more modern Tianhe District like most of my friends but I like the narrow cobblestone alley in front of the building, where old people gather in the late afternoons under a spreading banyan tree to play mahjong or sing Cantonese opera. Across the alley is another identical apartment block. All its balconies are covered with laundry and flowers such as roses, chrysanthemums, lilies, and hibiscus -- Cantonese people like flowers and arrange them well, often in window boxes that decorate the streets and houses, bringing a little gentle beauty to the cityscape. Sometimes a middle-aged woman appears on a balcony, yelling in Cantonese at someone in her family to return for dinner.

I wake up every morning to the sounds of my landlord chopping meatbones in her apartment across from mine. She has lived in Guangzhou from birth. She loves to cook and has taught me how to make salt-baked chicken, beef stew clay pot, and shrimp wonton noodle soup. On warm days she will prepare cold herb tea and save a cup for me. After trying many different cuisines from many different regions, I have acquired a taste for Cantonese food with its mild flavor and freshness.

On weekends I sometimes go to Shamian Island to read on the beach of the Pearl River. There, all the historical Western-style mansions are well maintained, with their white stone walls, wrought-iron banisters on the balconies shaded by banyan trees, and ornate wooden doors. The sight of them makes me think of the history in the nineteenth century when the Qing Dynasty government allowed European and American businesses to set up a trading zone here. Highrises stretch along both sides of the river. The five-star White Swan Hotel is busier than ever -- now a hub for foreigners adopting Chinese orphans. I often encounter white parents on the beach, holding a Chinese baby girl they are planning to take home. Once a couple from Sweden approached me and asked if I could suggest a good Chinese name for their newly adopted baby.

After living in Guangzhou for over ten years, I have begun to fall in love with this city, not just for its amiable weather, but also for the relaxation, generosity, and down-to-earth nature of its people, which wasn't how I felt when I first came here as a student. A decade has changed the city, and has also changed me in subtle ways that reflect my age and experience. I drawl involuntarily at the end of a sentence when speaking Mandarin -- my mother tongue -- as a Cantonese would; I start my Sunday mornings with dim sum and cup after cup of tea at a teahouse; I buy an orange tree for New Year and hang red envelopes on its branches to be blessed with good fortune, in accordance with the old local custom. I realize that I am becoming a citizen of my adopted city, adapting and assimilating.

I am an editor at a reference and textbook publisher. The job pays well but to me it is just a job. I go to work at eight, leave at five and never stay late. After work I often stroll to Tianhe Book City next to my office to check out the latest arrivals in the literature section. Some nights I go to a bar or coffee house with my coworkers or old college friends. We talk about work, fashion, politics, the economy, or other subjects that matter or don't matter to us. Single again, I appreciate their companionship and enjoy spending time with them. But sometimes, when I hear them talking, my mind will stray to completely unrelated thoughts, often too random and brief to be significant -- perhaps about a book, a childhood incident, or a unique-looking person I just saw on the street. If I let my mind wander, I always end up thinking of Miao Yan, a college friend of mine. I have not seen her for more than ten years. Though for about eleven months we were extremely close -- at least I would like to think so -- I now feel I know little about her and her life.

One Saturday morning, my mother calls from my hometown, a city in another province.

"So what do you plan to do?" she says, after asking about the weather and the cost of living in Guangzhou.

"I have a good job and a lot of friends."

"You aren't a little girl anymore. You're almost thirty. A woman your age should be settling down by now."

"Ma, I did," I say. "At least I tried."

"You didn't even tell your father and me until after it happened. If you had just told us and listened -- "

"You just said I'm not a little girl anymore." I smile. We have had this conversation a score of times. I know she will never understand no matter how often I try to explain it.

Silence on the other end. Then, "A friend of your father's called him yesterday. His son was just relocated from Beijing to Guangzhou. He's thirty-four, also divorced. No children. He's an engineer." My mother clears her throat and her voice becomes soft. "I think you should meet him."

"Don't worry about me."

"I don't understand -- "

"I'm fine. I can take care of myself. Tell Baba not to worry. Nowadays, no one cares if you're divorced or not." I sit down on the bed and look at myself in the full-size mirror -- sleeveless black turtleneck sweater in the latest fashion, whitish low-cut jeans with yellow seams on the sides, dark brown ponytail which is shining in the sunlight from the window, and two big silver earrings dangling above delicate but well-shaped shoulders. I am startled by how much I look like Miao Yan, except for the ponytail.

"China isn't America," my mother finally says.

"How's Baba?" I ask.

Next day I spend the whole morning cleaning my apartment. Like other big cities, Guangzhou has too many cars and too few trees. If I don't wipe my desk for two days, a thin film of dust accumulates. While organizing my books, I put on the phonograph an old recording of Paganini I bought at an antique store a year ago. I used to play the violin but haven't done so since I graduated from college. Among the books is a collection of poems from university students, a few of mine included. Even after all these years I still remember some of the poems I wrote then. They tend to have a melancholy tone, obviously written by a much younger woman.

The biggest task is tidying my wardrobe. Even if I changed my clothes twice a day for a month, it would still leave a lot unworn. I got into the habit of shopping in my senior year at university, at first purely for job interviews, but over time it became an indulgence, resulting in my overstocked walk-in wardrobe.

The white box is lying in the corner like an ice cube. It contains a black dress with straps made of shiny material, and a flower-patterned silk blouse. They used to belong to Miao Yan but are mine now. I dust the box and put it back.

In the afternoon I visit the university's Alumni Administration Office. I am applying for graduate school in the U.S. and need transcripts for my application. As I wait in the lobby for the documents to be signed and sealed, a woman in her early thirties joins me. She is wearing a crimson pantsuit with a pearl necklace, looking as though she has come straight from an interview. She says she needs her transcripts to get to Canada, where she is emigrating with her husband and five-year-old daughter.

"I've been taking cooking classes," she says, shrugging like a Westerner. "I hear chefs make more money than librarians. Who'd hire me as a librarian in Canada anyway?"

"Did you study library and information science?"

"Yes, from eighty-nine to ninety-three."

"I was a first-year student in ninety-one," I say, thinking about how different the university was back then. Now it is like the center of the city. The buses to downtown run round the clock and every week a seafood restaurant opens nearby. Students ride their bikes while talking on their cell phones.

The woman walks elegantly to a long table, pours water from a glass jug into a small paper cup, and sips it.

When she sits, I ask, "Do you know Miao Yan?" My heart is pounding suddenly.

"Sounds familiar."

"You were classmates."

"Oh, that tall girl! She's from Sichuan, isn't she?"

"No. Yunnan."

"Maybe you're right." She looks at me with curiosity. "How did you know her?"

"Just coincidence. Have you seen her? Do you know where she is?"

"Not really. We were never close. She was always on her own. I doubt she was friends with any of her other classmates."

The administrator calls her name. She stands up, smoothing her jacket and pants. Before going inside she turns abruptly at the door. "Now I remember. She moved to the U.S. a few years ago. I don't know how she did that. Anyway, someone said she met her at a boutique store in San Francisco's Chinatown last year. Believe it or not, she owned the store."

I thank her and wish her good luck with the emigration.

That night I can't sleep. The past fills me with deep emotion. I recall the evening Miao Yan and I first talked. The details return with such vividness that it seems as if I am watching a video of it -- the low-hanging moon, the whitish cement ground, Miao Yan's glittering eyes, her fluttering blouse, the way she lit her cigarette and exhaled the smoke. It is all imprinted on my memory and can never be removed.

After allowing these memories to consume me for a time I can't measure accurately, I get up and take the white box from the closet. I put on the black dress in the bathroom -- it still fits perfectly. There in the mirror, I stare at myself for the longest time. In the mirror, in my eyes, I see Miao Yan and more and more of myself at seventeen.

Copyright © 2006 by Fan Wu



Continues...


Excerpted from February Flowers by Fan Wu Copyright © 2007 by Fan Wu. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Introduction

Introduction

Set in modern China, February Flowers tells the stories of two young women's journeys to self-discovery and reconciliation with the past.

Seventeen-year-old Ming and twenty-four-year-old Yan have very little in common other than studying in the same college. Ming, idealistic and preoccupied, lives in her own world of books, music, and imagination. Yan, by contrast, is sexy but cynical, beautiful but wild, with no sense of home. When the two meet and become friends, Ming's world is forever changed. But their differences in upbringing and ideology ultimately drive them apart, leaving each to face her dark secret alone.

Insightful, sophisticated, and rich with complex characters, February Flowers captures a society torn between tradition and modernity, dogma and freedom. It is a meditation on friendship, family, love, loss, and redemption, and how a background shapes a life.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. The narrator of February Flowers begins her tale with the words "After my marriage ends ..." (page 1) situating the reader in the midst of her life, akin to beginning "Hansel and Gretel" in the midst of their search for bread crumbs, trying to find their way home. Why do you think Ming chooses to begin her story in the middle and not at the beginning or even at the end? What does it tell us about the kind of story that we are about to be told? What effect does it have on us as readers?

2. Ming is portrayed as a cautious, serious, and even withdrawn teenager. Between her and Yan, it seems that Ming is the "good" girl and Yan is the "bad" girl. To what standards are both Yan and Mingconforming? Against what is each girl rebelling? What from Ming's past might be the cause of her evident caution and even disdain toward both the world generally and men specifically?

3. Why do you think Yan decides to embrace her sexuality and womanhood while Ming prefers to deny hers? What impact do you think their upbringing had on their notions of female sexuality? Does February Flowers seem to say that our childhoods impact how we view ourselves as we grow up, or that our natures are strictly innate?

4. Throughout the book, Ming makes many references to high heels, associating them particularly with Yan. "The sound of her heels clicking on the rooftop cement lingered in the air even after she had disappeared" (page 20). And at the end of the story, when Ming herself has taken to wearing high heels, she writes, "My high-heeled shoes are hurting..." (page 239). Discuss how high heels could be viewed as a metaphor for Ming's perception of womanhood and sexuality.

5. Discuss Yan's attitude toward authority, specifically male authority, and contrast it to Ming's approach. Based on their histories, do their respective attitudes make sense to you? Why or why not?

6. What do you think is at the root of Yan's and Ming's relationship? If, as Yan seems to think, everyone uses everyone, of what use is Ming to Yan? What does Yan hope to gain through her friendship with Ming? Do you think Yan was as attached to Ming as Ming was to her?

7. Throughout the book, Ming is touted as the intellectual, while Yan is more sensual. Which approach to life, if either, do you think the author is advocating in February Flowers? Based on the book, which approach seems smarter? What exactly would you say constitutes intelligence in February Flowers?

8. Why do you think Ming, at the age of seventeen, has never experienced as she says, "camaraderie" (page 45), or even intimacy, until she meets Yan? How do you think each is changed through their relationship with the other?

9. Why is gaining power over men so important to Yan, while Ming prefers to lose herself in books? What does each hope to gain? In what ways are the two women similar?

10. At the end of the book, Ming writes, "I have never wanted to see the city as much as I do today — it's nothing close to perfect but it's where I'm most comfortable" (page 239). Compare this perception of the city to the perception that she has upon first arriving at the university. Using Ming's changing feelings toward the city, can you track her growth? What does her perception of the city at the end of the story tell us about how she has changed?

11. Throughout the story, it seems that Ming believes that someone like Yan can teach her how to become a woman. She writes that she was looking for someone "to help me realize my womanhood and discover my sexuality" (page. 228). Does Ming learn how to realize her womanhood and discover her sexuality from Yan?

12. Near the end of the book, Ming visits a bar where she meets a woman. The woman says to her, "A little innocence always makes a woman more alluring" (page 237). By the end of the book, what does Ming learn about what actually makes a woman alluring?

13. Why do you think Yan disappears without letting Ming know that she is leaving? Do you think her leaving had anything to do with her relationship with Ming?

14. Why do you think Fan Wu entitled her book February Flowers? For what might "February Flowers" be a metaphor?

15. If the narrator did not tell the reader that the story was set in 1991 China, how would one surmise this? What details does Fan Wu use to let the reader know where the story is set and in what time period?

16. Ming makes many references to the fond time that as a child she spent "alone in the dark attic" (page 224). Why do you think this memory is so strong and lingering for Ming? What does the dark attic represent to her?

17. It seems that Ming could have easily searched for and perhaps even found Yan once she had disappeared. Ming tells us that she had so many questions to ask Yan, yet "was afraid to bring back the memories. Even if [Yan] had enclosed her contact information, I doubt I would have called or written back" (Pg. 227). Why do you think Ming was afraid to bring back these memories? What do Yan and that time represent to Ming?

18. In the end, what do you think Ming has lost? What has she gained? Do you think Ming would agree that the trade-off was worth it? Has whatever Ming lost been replaced with something of more value?

19. One might say that Ming represents the China of old while Yan represents the China of new. This struggle between old and new seems to be alluded to throughout February Flowers. Discuss and find examples of how this struggle is reflected in the city itself, in the lives of the students at the University, and within the characters of Yan and Ming.

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Throughout the book, Fan Wu paints beautiful visual and aural images, what one might describe as word paintings. Find some of these word paintings in the book and discuss in what way these metaphors might be perceived as particularly Chinese in nature. To help you might want to listen to "Butterfly Lovers" (page 10), the Chinese violin classic that Ming says she played for years, or find examples of Chinese art and see how this, too, could be said to be reflected in Fan Wu's prose.

2. Choose an author like Faulkner or Hemingway and discuss why, in contrast to Fan Wu's seemingly delicate images, their images and prose might be described as masculine and American in feel.

3. Discuss any of the following novels that focus on young men and women coming of age in nineteenth-and twentieth-century America, and examine how those characters' experiences growing up in America compare to those of Ming and Yan in China.

Louisa May Alcott. Little Women (1868-69)

Carson McCullers. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940)

J. D. Salinger. The Catcher in the Rye (1951)

Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (1963)

Philip Roth. Portnoy's Complaint (1969)

Maya Angelou. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970)

Alice Walker. The Color Purple (1982)

Judy Blume. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret (1986)

Dorothy Allison. Bastard Out of Carolina (1992)

Fan Wu grew up on a state-run farm in southern China, where her parents were exiled during the Cultural Revolution. Her debut novel, February Flowers, has been translated into eight languages, and her short fiction, besides being anthologized and nominated for the Pushcart Prize, has appeared in Granta, The Missouri Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. Wu holds an M.A. from Stanford University and currently lives in Santa Clara, California. Please visit her website at www.fanwuwrites.com.

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Reading Group Guide

Introduction

Set in modern China, February Flowers tells the stories of two young women's journeys to self-discovery and reconciliation with the past.

Seventeen-year-old Ming and twenty-four-year-old Yan have very little in common other than studying in the same college. Ming, idealistic and preoccupied, lives in her own world of books, music, and imagination. Yan, by contrast, is sexy but cynical, beautiful but wild, with no sense of home. When the two meet and become friends, Ming's world is forever changed. But their differences in upbringing and ideology ultimately drive them apart, leaving each to face her dark secret alone.

Insightful, sophisticated, and rich with complex characters, February Flowers captures a society torn between tradition and modernity, dogma and freedom. It is a meditation on friendship, family, love, loss, and redemption, and how a background shapes a life.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. The narrator of February Flowers begins her tale with the words "After my marriage ends ..." (page 1) situating the reader in the midst of her life, akin to beginning "Hansel and Gretel" in the midst of their search for bread crumbs, trying to find their way home. Why do you think Ming chooses to begin her story in the middle and not at the beginning or even at the end? What does it tell us about the kind of story that we are about to be told? What effect does it have on us as readers?

2. Ming is portrayed as a cautious, serious, and even withdrawn teenager. Between her and Yan, it seems that Ming is the "good" girl and Yan is the "bad" girl. To what standards are both Yan and Ming conforming? Against what is each girl rebelling? What from Ming's past might be the cause of her evident caution and even disdain toward both the world generally and men specifically?

3. Why do you think Yan decides to embrace her sexuality and womanhood while Ming prefers to deny hers? What impact do you think their upbringing had on their notions of female sexuality? Does February Flowers seem to say that our childhoods impact how we view ourselves as we grow up, or that our natures are strictly innate?

4. Throughout the book, Ming makes many references to high heels, associating them particularly with Yan. "The sound of her heels clicking on the rooftop cement lingered in the air even after she had disappeared" (page 20). And at the end of the story, when Ming herself has taken to wearing high heels, she writes, "My high-heeled shoes are hurting..." (page 239). Discuss how high heels could be viewed as a metaphor for Ming's perception of womanhood and sexuality.

5. Discuss Yan's attitude toward authority, specifically male authority, and contrast it to Ming's approach. Based on their histories, do their respective attitudes make sense to you? Why or why not?

6. What do you think is at the root of Yan's and Ming's relationship? If, as Yan seems to think, everyone uses everyone, of what use is Ming to Yan? What does Yan hope to gain through her friendship with Ming? Do you think Yan was as attached to Ming as Ming was to her?

7. Throughout the book, Ming is touted as the intellectual, while Yan is more sensual. Which approach to life, if either, do you think the author is advocating in February Flowers? Based on the book, which approach seems smarter? What exactly would you say constitutes intelligence in February Flowers?

8. Why do you think Ming, at the age of seventeen, has never experienced as she says, "camaraderie" (page 45), or even intimacy, until she meets Yan? How do you think each is changed through their relationship with the other?

9. Why is gaining power over men so important to Yan, while Ming prefers to lose herself in books? What does each hope to gain? In what ways are the two women similar?

10. At the end of the book, Ming writes, "I have never wanted to see the city as much as I do today — it's nothing close to perfect but it's where I'm most comfortable" (page 239). Compare this perception of the city to the perception that she has upon first arriving at the university. Using Ming's changing feelings toward the city, can you track her growth? What does her perception of the city at the end of the story tell us about how she has changed?

11. Throughout the story, it seems that Ming believes that someone like Yan can teach her how to become a woman. She writes that she was looking for someone "to help me realize my womanhood and discover my sexuality" (page. 228). Does Ming learn how to realize her womanhood and discover her sexuality from Yan?

12. Near the end of the book, Ming visits a bar where she meets a woman. The woman says to her, "A little innocence always makes a woman more alluring" (page 237). By the end of the book, what does Ming learn about what actually makes a woman alluring?

13. Why do you think Yan disappears without letting Ming know that she is leaving? Do you think her leaving had anything to do with her relationship with Ming?

14. Why do you think Fan Wu entitled her book February Flowers? For what might "February Flowers" be a metaphor?

15. If the narrator did not tell the reader that the story was set in 1991 China, how would one surmise this? What details does Fan Wu use to let the reader know where the story is set and in what time period?

16. Ming makes many references to the fond time that as a child she spent "alone in the dark attic" (page 224). Why do you think this memory is so strong and lingering for Ming? What does the dark attic represent to her?

17. It seems that Ming could have easily searched for and perhaps even found Yan once she had disappeared. Ming tells us that she had so many questions to ask Yan, yet "was afraid to bring back the memories. Even if [Yan] had enclosed her contact information, I doubt I would have called or written back" (Pg. 227). Why do you think Ming was afraid to bring back these memories? What do Yan and that time represent to Ming?

18. In the end, what do you think Ming has lost? What has she gained? Do you think Ming would agree that the trade-off was worth it? Has whatever Ming lost been replaced with something of more value?

19. One might say that Ming represents the China of old while Yan represents the China of new. This struggle between old and new seems to be alluded to throughout February Flowers. Discuss and find examples of how this struggle is reflected in the city itself, in the lives of the students at the University, and within the characters of Yan and Ming.

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Throughout the book, Fan Wu paints beautiful visual and aural images, what one might describe as word paintings. Find some of these word paintings in the book and discuss in what way these metaphors might be perceived as particularly Chinese in nature. To help you might want to listen to "Butterfly Lovers" (page 10), the Chinese violin classic that Ming says she played for years, or find examples of Chinese art and see how this, too, could be said to be reflected in Fan Wu's prose.

2. Choose an author like Faulkner or Hemingway and discuss why, in contrast to Fan Wu's seemingly delicate images, their images and prose might be described as masculine and American in feel.

3. Discuss any of the following novels that focus on young men and women coming of age in nineteenth-and twentieth-century America, and examine how those characters' experiences growing up in America compare to those of Ming and Yan in China.

Louisa May Alcott. Little Women (1868-69)

Carson McCullers. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940)

J. D. Salinger. The Catcher in the Rye (1951)

Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (1963)

Philip Roth. Portnoy's Complaint (1969)

Maya Angelou. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970)

Alice Walker. The Color Purple (1982)

Judy Blume. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret (1986)

Dorothy Allison. Bastard Out of Carolina (1992)

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  • Posted December 27, 2012

    This is a real pleasure to read, and a powerful tribute to passi

    This is a real pleasure to read, and a powerful tribute to passionate friendship. The interplay of innocence, integrity, shyness, high spirits, and stunning beauty is too good to be untrue. Can't see how anybody could just make up this richness of emotional complexity. It's a great first novel for Fan Wu, and a solid addition to the folklore of Guangzhou city.

    --author of A Galaxy of Immortal Women: The Yin Side of Chinese Civilization

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