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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

It's About Family - In All Its Confusing, Contradictory, Captivating Glory

(Image from Indiebound)

"Enough of drawing lines between strength and weakness, great and ordinary, themselves and other women. They'd drawn lines until they'd drawn themselves into cages" (267).
When Irene Shen's husband leaves her after thirty years of marriage, she's stunned. When, in the act of fleeing, he's killed in a car accident, she's devastated. His death unanchors not only Irene, but also her three daughters, who drift even farther apart in the wake of the tragedy. Five months later, Irene's desperately lonely. In a frantic effort to reconnect with her family, she plans a two-week tour of China for herself, her trio of girls, her sister, and her mother. Irene hopes that by returning her fractured family to its roots, they can unite in their pain, buoy each other up, and find the inspiration they need to face an uncertain future.
Planning the trip gives Irene something to do, a project with which to fill her empty hours, but the idea of vacationing with family fills the rest of the group with dread. At almost 80, Irene's mother, Lin Yulan, has finally found contentment. She has little desire to return to China at all, especially not with her estranged daughters. Irene's sister, Susan, is settled in Hong Kong. The idea of traveling to China with women she barely knows frightens her. Even if they are her family. Nora, a 28-year-old Wall Street phenom, has her own problems. She's a smashing success at everything but love. As her long-time relationship with a kind Jewish man starts to fade, she has to grapple with the eternal career v. family question. As much as she could use a vacation, she's not sure she wants to spend it with Irene, who's so needy it's pathetic. Kay is already in China. She fled for Beijing after her father's death, vowing to get to know the country up close and personal. What she sees isn't pretty, but her attempts to help cure the city's social problems have been ridiculously inept. Now she's not sure what to do. Sophie, the youngest of Irene's daughters, still lives in New York with her mother. Despite their physical closeness, the two hardly communicate at all. Sophie's hiding a dangerous secret, one she may not be able to keep concealed during two weeks with her nosy, hypercritical family.
Each packing their own secrets, the six women head to China, reluctant except for Irene, who trudges forward with unmitigated hope in the healing power of the trip. As the group hops from vista to vista, more secrets are formed, hoarded and, eventually, revealed. The revelations bring the women closer, even as one larger mystery threatens to tear apart the fragile bonds they've formed. Will the truth be the undoing of an already splintered family or will it be the one thing that will finally bring them together?
A Thread of Sky, a debut novel by New Yorker Deanna Fei, is a beautifully-rendered portrait of a family struggling to keep itself together. With a backdrop as colorful and complex as China, one can't help make comparisons between the Shen Family and the land of its birth. Steeped in history, culture and the gritty realities of every day life, it's an ideal setting for six women to find themselves as each grapples for understanding of herself as an individual, her role in the family, and her place in the world at large. It's not an easy story to read, nor an overly bright one, but A Thread of Sky is a well-crafted, compelling novel about family in all its confusing, contradictory, captivating glory.
(Readalikes: Reminded me a little of The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan)
Grade: B-
If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for strong language, sexual content and some violence
To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of A Thread of Sky courtesy of TLC Book Tours, for whom this review was written.


  1. I need to check this one out from my library. I'm almost sure I have a copy, but it is packed away in storage. Thanks for sharing about this one! Looks really good.

  2. I really liked this book--in fact just reviewed it earlier this week to time it with its paperback release. I think both Amy Tan and Julia Alvarez are good comps for it.

  3. I really enjoyed The Joy Luck Club when I read it years ago, so I'm glad to see the comparison here.

    Thanks for being on the tour!


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