Set against the vibrant and intrigue-laden backdrop of 1930s China, Mingmei Yip's enthralling novel explores one woman's defiant pursuit of independence.
Spring Swallow was promised in marriage while still in her mother's belly. When the groom dies before a wedding can take place, seventeen-year-old Spring Swallow is ordered to become a ghost bride to appease his spirit. Under her in-laws' protection, she will be little more than a servant, unable to know real love or bear children. Refusing to accept her fate as a "bad-luck woman," Spring Swallow flees on her wedding day.
In the city of Soochow, Spring Swallow joins a community of renowned embroiderers. The women work for Aunty Peony, whose exquisite stitching once earned her the Emperor's love. But when Aunty Peony agrees to replicate a famous painting--a lucrative assignment that will take a year to complete--betrayal and jealousy emerges within the group. Spring Swallow becomes entangled in each woman's story of heartbreak, even while she embarks on a dangerous affair with a young revolutionary. On a journey that leads from the remote hillsides around Soochow to cosmopolitan Peking, Spring Swallow draws on the secret techniques learned from Aunty Peony and her own indomitable strength, determined to forge a life that is truly her own.
Praise For The Novels Of Mingmei Yip
"A unique and enthralling style. . .flawless." –Baltimore Books Examiner on The Nine Fold Heaven
"Surprising and often funny. . .Part epic, part coming-of-age story, part modern fairy tale." --Publishers Weekly on Song of the Silk Road
"A serious, engaging story of faith, devotion, and the commingling of cultures." –Booklist on Petals From the Sky
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
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Secret of a Thousand Beauties
By Mingmei Yip
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Mingmei Yip
All rights reserved.
It was my wedding day. I was horrified.
Because my soon-to-be-lawful—and awful—husband was not even a man.
He was a ghost.
Well, a man, but a dead one! A sinister being, his cold hands reaching toward me from the yin world....
When we were engaged, in accord with tradition, I'd never met him. In fact, no one had ever met him, because my ghost husband-to-be and I had been engaged long before we were even born. My mother and her best friend, my ghost husband's mother, lived in the same village and happened to get pregnant around the same time. Following the ancient tradition zhifu weihun, they pointed to each other's protruding bellies, and proclaimed, "If we give birth to a boy and a girl, they'll be husband and wife when they turn seventeen."
So, because of our extremely old and extremely unfortunate tradition, my fate had been decided even before I was born. I was going to marry a man I could never know, not even see, because he'd died before he could make it outside his mother's belly. Like a snake, her umbilical cord wound around his tiny neck and squeezed the tiny breath out of him.
"But, Spring Swallow," said my mean aunt, addressing me by name, "a promise is a promise."
It was my misfortune to have been raised by this very mean woman because both of my parents had died in a bus accident not long after their future son-in-law's failure to enter this life. It was whispered around the village that because the baby could not lure his parents to join him in hell, he dragged down his intended parents-in-law instead.
My heartless aunt went on. "You know, failing to keep a promise not only shames your ancestors, but will bring your husband's ghost back to haunt you. So, you have no choice but to marry him, dead or alive. Also, because not only your future husband but your parents also died, no man will marry you."
Before I had a chance to ask why, she cast me a malicious glance. "No man wants to marry a bad-luck woman!"
But I knew the real reason that Mean Aunt was so eager for me to marry a ghost. Not because I was bad luck, but because I would be good luck for her. My ghost husband's family was one of the richest in the village. Though the wedding would bring me no husband, it would bring her a bundle of cash and a heap of expensive gifts. But, of course, rich people do not give away their money just because they are nice. Once married to their ghost son, I would be obligated to take care of my mother-in-law until she died!
My aunt went on to threaten me. "You think any man would want to marry you? Born under an all-destroying star? Spring Swallow, you really have no choice. So don't even think of escaping. I won't let you destroy my reputation and ruin my life!"
Escape. That was exactly what I had in mind all along. I didn't care about my aunt's reputation and life. Because living in our remote village and being an old maid, she didn't have much of a life to begin with anyway.
Excerpted from Secret of a Thousand Beauties by Mingmei Yip. Copyright © 2014 Mingmei Yip. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The opening paragraphj of Secret of a Thousand Beauties is powerful and gripping. It definitely lures you further into the story. Despite the fact that the groom is dead, Spring Swallow must fulfill a marriage promise made when the two were mere children. Stepping in to represent her dead groom is a rooster. After the wedding she is obligated to serve her groom's family for the rest of her life. Marrying the dead is an ancient tradition and based upon honor. But Spring Swallow is strong and determined to ensure her life is a happy one, so this is a story of how she bolts, and breaks away from tradition to make her own way in life. Told in first person narrative through the voice of Spring Swallow, the author does a wonderful job of interjecting history and culture into the bittersweet, fascinating storyline. She finds work as an embroideress with a woman named Peony, who takes in stray girls to learn the craft. Although she has food and shelter, her life is one of toil and Spring Swallow soon finds herself as trapped as her ghostly marriage. Briefly, she is able to escape to a mountain top where she writes her thoughts on rocks. Soon someone is responding to her writing and she falls in love with Shen Feng, a rebel. This is a tale of one woman's struggle for freedom in a world where tradition and ancient beliefs still hold a great deal of power. I enjoyed the easy prose and poignancy of the tale. The characters were three dimensional and not predictable in the least. Although there is a tone of sadness in this novel's pages, it is what makes it most credible, mirroring real life. An excellent book! Definitely one to add to your collection.
The premise of the book really caught my attention: teenage girl forced to marry a boy/ghost who was miscarried in the womb, runs away on her wedding day to a new life. The first chapter almost turned me off, I felt the writing was too crass for a 1930s Chinese peasant girl. I decided to stick with it and eventually got used to Spring Swallow's voice. It's hard to tell the passage of time in the book, Spring Swallow makes things seem like months and years, but then later you realize it was only a couple of weeks. That kind of makes it hard to keep up with everything. That being said, I couldn't put the book down! I wascurious to know how she would get out of each situation and where she would go next. I didn't really feel like the book had a climax and an ending: it felt like the author got tired of telling Spring Swallow's story so she put a neat little bow on it.
Much of the fascination with this book for me came because of the setting: 1930’s China. I love historical fiction, and add to that the sense of ‘foreignness’ of the narrative voice and setting, and I was hooked. Starting with a very simplistic style that may be off-putting to some, Mingmei Yip’s word use and descriptions seem to grow as Spring Swallow, the protagonist grows and takes steps to achieve some sense of independence in a culture that is so not prepared or accepting. Spring Swallow navigates customs, interactions and challenges with a blend of ‘oh no way’ and ‘what other choice is available’ sort of approach, if an opportunity arises to avoid an obvious difficulty, she is willing to take it, often to her detriment. Starting with a betrothal to a young man who was dead, she is expected to continue and proceed as if the wedding happened. Her first real bristle against authority as she refuses to become the handmaiden to his grieving mother. Running away to a nearby village, she joins on with to become a protégé of Aunty Peony, a famed embroiderer. While it seems that a life is cleanly laid out where she can thrive, again the fates intervene and the promising life feels more façade than solid. Mingmei Yip is not simply weaving a story of Spring Swallow’s history, she is presenting us a beautifully detailed and richly drawn portrait of life in a small Chinese village in the early 20th century, where customs and societal norms are hundreds if not thousands of years old, and non-conformance with one aspect of that life can, and often does, lead to sorrow, suffering, loss and struggle. From curiosity to concern, readers will find their own emotional investment in the story deepen and grow just as Spring Swallow learns, grows and shares her life. Utterly unlike anything I have read before, the descriptions, customs and daily activities were described and defined in a way that made sense for information and to the story progression. If you want something different that is far more a savor than a speed read – this is the title. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
I enjoyed reading about the Chinese culture of this time period. The heroine was strong and compassionate. The story was entertaining. The writing was excellent. The ending was satisfying. Everthing I look for in a good book!
17-year-old orphan Spring Swallow was betrothed before she and her intended were born and even though he never lived to see the light of day their marriage contract was still binding. To escape the terrible fate of being wedded to a “ghost” Spring Swallow flees home on her wedding day, wearing her only worldly possession, her wedding dress. She ends up in the small village of Soochow in the shadow of a mountain far enough away from her home to be sure no one finds her. There she is taken in by a master embroiderer, Aunt Peony, where she and Aunt Peony’s other wards apprentice in the art of embroidery to earn their keep. As Spring Swallow adjusts to life with Aunt Peony and her “sister” apprentices she learns who to trust and who to be wary of and she learns that Aunt Peony has many secrets of her own but it doesn't stop her from wanting to be a master embroiderer too. Mingmei Yip’s latest novel is an enlightening, informative look at Chinese culture in the 1930s right before China becomes a Communist country. It’s a visual trip through time and into a culture made real for our benefit by this incredibly talented author. Her use of humor and drama mixed with a poignant coming of age story illuminates brilliantly the sights, sounds and characters of her inspiring tale. Her co-stars shine but none as brightly as her tenacious, resilient Spring Swallow.
Secret of a Thousand Beauties by Mingmei Yip, is set in 1930's China, a nation in flux, with changes taking place throughout the country with social, political, economic reforms that has caught many in the middle who still cling to the old way of life. One such person caught up in this is Spring Swallow, a young woman promised in marriage. However, the husband to be dies before the wedding can take place, and by tradition, Spring Swallow must become a "Ghost Bride" which is nothing more than a slave/servant to the grooms family. Thank goodness, she refuses her fate and runs away and that is where the story really begins. What follows is an intriguing storyline and engaging plot that tells the story of a group of women, full of betrayal and jealousy. The question here is, will Spring Swallow will rise above and emerge with a life of her own, will she find love and happiness? Throughout her journey, the indomitable strength and determination shown by Spring Swallow demonstrated through trials and tribulations is awe inspiring. Told in a simply fashion, her conflict is mirrored by an accurate historical backdrop that adds to the intensity. A very personal and intimate story, this is one that I thoroughly enjoyed. Overall, this is Historical Fiction done right,
I only read the sample and decided not to purchase because the tone of book sounds as if it is being told by a modern teenager and not an ancient Chinese girl. Honestly once the author decided to use the f. Word I was out.