Book Club Reflections
We had a wonderful evening discussing Maida’s book club pic, Four Treasures of the Sky by debut novelist, Jenny Tinghui Zhang.
Historical fiction meets magical realism in this beautiful yet harrowing novel that sheds light on the horrific cruelties faced by Chinese-Americans in the 1880’s.
A young Chinese woman, Daiyu, named after the tragic heroine, Lin Daiyu, is smuggled across the Pacific in a coal bucket (we all agreed that it was a scene that sticks!😬) to the brothels of the American West. To survive, Daiyu, ever vigilant and precautious, constantly reinvents herself, deciding the safest bet is to navigate this world as a man.
As a book club, we loved the ‘writer moves’ in this coming-of-age novel! ✍️
We appreciated how Zhang wove Chinese folklore, calligraphy, and philosophical teachings from Daiyu’s calligrapher teacher, throughout. We also admired how she contrasted the English language with Chinese to highlight differences in worldview which foreshadowed what might lie ahead.
Check out this beautiful image:
“The character for joy is silk threads over a tree. Like music in a forest, the melody that skims treetops. The character looks the way joy feels…like you are above everything, like you cannot keep yourself from igniting.”
Although the book shared a bleak period in history, these teachings carried Daiyu and became her guiding light and source of comfort during her darkest days.
"The artist must master the art of releasing the brush, giving it the space and freedom to find itself again. Resilience is simple, really. Know when to push and when to let go.”
We also had a conversation about why Zhang intentionally chose to forgo dialogue punctuation and what effect that has on the reading.
Zhang is a wonderful storyteller that writes with the careful intention of a calligrapher. We think she is a writer to keep on the radar!
“My life was written for me from the moment the name was given to me. Or it was not. That is the true beauty. That is the intent. We can practice all we want, telling and retelling the same story, but the story that comes out of your mouth, from your brush, is one that only you can tell. So let it be. Let your story be yours, and my story be mine.”
"But, in English, there are hierarchies to every word and all the sounds within that word. The most important sounds are spoken with vigor, while the unimportant ones are tucked in between, reduced and hidden. It is its own kind of music -every sentence has a certain rhythm to it, every word its own metronome. English, it seems, is a matter of timing and chaos."