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All the Flowers in Shanghai: A Novel by…
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All the Flowers in Shanghai: A Novel (edition 2011)

by Duncan Jepson

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16039128,957 (3.26)14
Shanghai, 1930s. . Heroine Xiao Feng must take her dead sister's place in an arranged marriage to Xiong Fa, a son from the prosperous Sang family.
Member:writemeg
Title:All the Flowers in Shanghai: A Novel
Authors:Duncan Jepson
Info:William Morrow Paperbacks (2011), Edition: Original, Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:historical fiction, China, motherhood, family dynamics, first love

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All the Flowers in Shanghai: A Novel by Duncan Jepson

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All the Flowers of Shanghai...Before I give my review of this book, I have to clarify that I've read many books about China, Chinese Women and the Cultural Revolution. Being Chinese my self, surrounded by older Chinese women also gave me invaluable insights into the basic struggles and values of them. The bottom line is that I probably had a higher expectation for the book than most.

The story was told in the voice of Xiao Feng, as a letter to the daughter she never raised, recounting her own and her family's history. I love the beginning of the book, where Feng described her happy childhood in Shanghai during the 1930s, spending the day with her Grandfather around town, visiting public gardens, learning names of flowers in Latin and sampling street delicacies. The author's description of Shanghai, possibly in it's most delightful and successful era of history, where all fancy merchandises from all over the world were purchasable, was accurate and enlightening. I almost didn't want her simple childhood to end. Xiao Feng in this part of the book was naive, simple curious, smart, loving and forgiving. She knew that happiness does not come from beauty or wealth, but within.

I love the last 15% of the book as well, where Feng ended up in a sewing factory during the cultural revolution, being reformed and corrected by working hard and enjoying very little. There was a glimpse into the mind and functions of the Red Army members, who were barely immature teenagers themselves. Feng, in this section, did not talk much about her feelings, yet her actions showed she was loving and forgiving, too. The ending was abrupt, leading lots of questions unanswered.

Now it brings us to the major and middle section of the book, which I found unbearable, and not only because of the boring tone of her monologue and her description of mundane things over and over again. This section begins as Feng was married into one of the richest family in Shanghai, which I could not describe how she ended up without spoilers. Her husband was not good-looking, but loved and treasured her. This part should have had lots of potential for the author to develop conflicts and relationships, whether positive or negative, between Feng and her family...but no. Feng spent all her self dwelling in self-pity, repeating meaningless things around her and describing how she resists performing the marriage ritual with her husband, night in and night out. I had no idea how she transformed from the loving girl in the beginning to this materialistic, hateful, deceitful, angry, loveless and full of revenge character overnight. I did not see the causes or events leading to it. I almost stopped reading a few times to get over the torture. Her resistance of performing wife duties was a bit unrealistic and forceful as well, especially for women of that era.

All in all, there are much better books to understand China, and the mentality of Chinese women with.



( )
  lovestampmom | Aug 8, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Feng is a young woman who is mostly ignored by everyone in her family with the exception of her grandfather who dotes on her. Her older sister is the one everyone’s hopes and dreams ride on but she’s cruel to Feng and the two have never had any sort of relationship. When her sister dies unexpectedly, Feng is forced to marry her fiancé to hold up the arrangements her parents made and Feng finds herself a wife to a son of a well-known and rich family in Shanghai with no idea how to fend for herself or any understanding of what’s expected of her.

All the Flowers in Shanghai interested me because this is a time frame I’m unfamiliar with --- Shanghai in the 1930s --- and I don’t read much historical fiction set in China which was very appealing. While the setting was interesting, I didn’t care for any of the characters. Feng goes from being exceptionally naïve to bitter in an amazingly short time frame. Her mother, the social climber, is not even worth mentioning as she wasn’t much of a mother so much as person bartering away her daughters for social acceptance. In the end, this book is a letter to a daughter Feng doesn’t know but why she would write such awful things to her daughter I just don’t understand. Yes, she was looking for forgiveness in the end, but throwing every hateful thing she’s ever done out into the world --- both to the daughter and to her husband --- doesn’t portray her in a good way.

Oddly, Feng gave her daughter away so that she wouldn’t have to face the life she did but the entire time I was reading, I kept wondering why she couldn’t leave any of her bitterness especially for her children. No, her life wasn’t an easy one but she didn’t want to see any happiness in her life and drove all of it away from her which meant she drove every family member away that she could. In the end of her life, she does begin to understand her hatred and deal with it but the letter feels like a poor apology and nothing more. She spent her whole life looking to get back at people and never sought to understand anyone’s motivation but her own and I couldn’t accept her mea culpa.

Like I said, the setting is really appealing and I wish there had been more about the revolution and the changes China went through. Because the story is told through Feng’s perspective, it’s hard to see the impact of the changes and what little of the revolution Feng does come in contact with she doesn’t understand because of the secluded life she led.

While I had trouble with the characters in this book, the writing is solid and has given me a new time frame for historical fiction to explore. ( )
  justabookreader | Jun 18, 2012 |
All the Flowers in Shanghai by Duncan Jepson

The cover of this book caught my eye at the library and I pulled it from the shelf. Always ready to try something new, I thought this story would be intriguing. I was not disappointed.

Several years ago I watched the movie of Memoirs of a Geisha and was truly captivated by the story. When I found the book it was based upon, it was even better. It is fascinating to learn about other cultures and this book was full of beautiful imagery and heartbreaking realism. Although it's just a novel, I believe the author, Duncan Jones, wanted to capture some of the customs and the powerful history of the Chinese people.

The story is woven through 1930s Shanghai, sweeping through the volatile politics and struggles, traditions and customs that existed for thousands of years. We meet Feng, a young daughter that is cast aside in light of her older sister's chances of marrying into a wealthy family. The mother puts everything she has into molding the eldest daughter into the perfect wife, giving them the opportunity to escalate their own family's standing. The younger daughter is simply there to live with the parents, so she can take care of them in their old age. No one has ever asked what she wants, and perhaps she doesn't know herself. Feng is content in her naïve bubble, simply sharing walks in the garden with her grandfather, never really knowing the sacrifices made for the family. But when tragedy strikes and the eldest daughter dies, Feng is suddenly poured into her sister's mold and marries in her place. Feng tries to break the mold cast for her, but thousands of years of traditions weigh heavily on her fragile situation. Can she break free or will she repeat the sins of the mothers before her?

The book includes a discussion guide and notes from the author about his own upbringing, as well as other suggested reading. All the Flowers in Shanghai is beautifully written and hauntingly portrayed.
  SonyaTyler | May 12, 2012 |
Duncan Jepson’s All The Flowers In Shanghai is a coming-of-age saga concerning a young, sheltered woman — a second daughter — and the unexpected path she’s forced to take. I fell in love with Jepson’s descriptions of the lush gardens in which Feng learns about life from her grandfather, and his early presence in the book endeared me to the story. From the moment I started, I felt invested in Feng’s future and eager to learn what became of her.

The emphasis on tradition, “giving face” (paying respect) and the tightly-controlled, measured lives of women in 1930s Shanghai all served to demonstrate how Feng’s fate seemed beyond her control. She falls in love with a young, poor man just before she’s shipped off to the Sang family, and the memory of their brief time together — an innocent time, a “normal” time — never leaves her. It’s Bi, in fact — or the memory of him, anyway — that eventually leads her in a new direction. But not before so much befalls her.

Before we go any further, I’ll whip out my ignorance: I know very little about China’s Communist revolution, civil war and cultural practices. While other readers have devoured books like Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Shanghai Girls, I’ve yet to pick up much literature set in Asia. Jepson’s All The Flowers In Shanghai served, for me, as a nice primer on a very unique time period.

Though many of Feng’s actions seem hard to understand, I feel Jepson did a good job of justifying his narrator’s actions in the context of the era. I was angry at her handling of certain situations, especially regarding the treatment of her own children, but I knew her feelings of betrayal guided these reactions. At a time in which wives were property and a necessary commodity, Feng is thrust into a life she never wanted. The book nicely captured the sense that much of what shapes us isn’t decided by us at all. Quite sobering.

Other readers have mentioned feeling emotionally distant from Feng, and I can understand where they’re coming from — but I actually felt bonded to her through all she’d been through, especially as I realized the drastic lengths to which she had to go to keep from feeling as though the Sangs, and her husband, “owned” her. Though Feng does eventually come to use sex as a weapon, I didn’t find the novel distasteful or graphic. The scenes in which Xiong Fa “visits” his new wife made me feel squeamish and sad for her, but I wasn’t horrified by Jepson’s descriptions. It’s all handled with care.

It might be worth noting that Jepson, a male author, has written a moving novel from the perspective of a broken young woman. Never pandering, Jepson’s accounts of Feng’s life as the woman chosen to give the Sang family an heir resonated deeply with me — and, as the Chinese Revolution spreads, I felt the full weight of its futility. Wealth, privilege and tradition mean nothing in the face of the changing world.

Though ultimately somber, All The Flowers In Shanghai was a story in which I felt invested from the beginning and was eager to finish. Fans of historical fiction, tales of motherhood and those who enjoy peeking at feminine roles throughout history might find something sad, touching and fascinating in Jepson’s debut. ( )
  writemeg | Apr 12, 2012 |
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For all the daughters, forgotten and unloved
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I still know your face.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Shanghai, 1930s. . Heroine Xiao Feng must take her dead sister's place in an arranged marriage to Xiong Fa, a son from the prosperous Sang family.

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In 1930s Shanghai, following the path of duty takes precedence over personal desires for every young Chinese woman. 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—she learns that fulfilling her duty means bearing a male heir.

Ruthless and embittered by a life that has been forced on her, Feng plots a terrible revenge. But as the years pass, she must come to a reckoning with the sacrifices and the terrible choices she has made to assure her place in family and society, before the entire country is engulfed in the fast-flowing tide of revolution.
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