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Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan

Bronze and Sunflower

by Cao Wenxuan

Other authors: Helen Wang (Translator)

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Bronze and Sunflower
By: Cao Wenxuan
Translated from Mandarin by: Helen Wang
Illustrated by: Meilo So

I received an ARC in exchange for my honest review.

This book meanders along at a leisurely pace - evoking an entire culture and world through its well thought out prose. It is one of those books that requires you to slow down and just take a moment. Here's an example:
"If people on passing boats scanned the long riverbank, they would spot her tiny figure. They would feel the vastness of the sky and the vastness of the earth, ..."
So yeah - you get the point. Do not skim over this book quickly. Consume its contents slowly to fully enjoy each word picture. It's an excellent translation by Ms. Wang.

This book is set in a very specific time in China during the cultural revolution. It's fascinating in that it shows in intimate details how people lived during this period of time.

Sunflower, an orphan, comes to live with Bronze's family. Bronze was involved in a frightening and painful fire and hasn't spoken since then. The two become very close. Their relationship defines the word, "family".

Sunflower's dad is an established artist from the city who specializes in (you guessed it) sunflowers. During the cultural revolution, intellectuals, etc. were sent to May Seventh Cadre Schools. I didn't know what this was but looked it up. These camps were "re-education" centers designed to reprogram intellectuals with the beliefs of the new government. They sounded very much like labor camps in that the inmates worked very hard physically all day and in the evenings attended classes. This made for a difficult and lonely life for Sunflower. She saw villagers across the river who seemed so full of life. She could not cross the river on her own to join them and could only watch. Ironically, her father dies by drowning and this tragedy is her bridge across the river. She is taken in by the poorest family who have a son, Bronze.

The book has a sort of fairy tale feel to it - albeit a Chinese fairy tale - in that each member behaves ideally. The mom (who is widowed) is self sacrificing "for the good of the family. Bronze seems happy to add another member to the family even though it means less resources for him. This means skimpier food rations in a family where all the rations were scare to begin with. He even comes up with a way to raise money to send Sunflower to school while not even considering himself. Sunflower is the ultimate, sweet natured girl in the face of all adversity and challenge. She is adorable in an idealized child sort of way so it's impossible to dislike her. However, people like this only exist in fairytales. This book has the lesson of family over self which I believe is a very important Chinese value.

There are some gorgeous little ink drawings at the beginning of each chapter. They are not a prominent part of the book but I just had to mention them because they are inviting and add to the charm of the landscapes described in this book. In other words, spend a few seconds enjoying each.

I loved the lush world created by this author and would welcome more books that let us understand other cultures and their values.

Sent from my iPhone ( )
  pammycats | Apr 22, 2017 |
A sweet, gentle story set in rural China for younger readers. I absolutely loved all the characters in this book. A wonderful read. ( )
  HeatherLINC | Jan 23, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Cao Wenxuanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Wang, HelenTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Book description
When Sunflower, a young city girl, moves to the countryside, she grows to love the reed marsh lands - the endlessly flowing river, the friendly buffalo with their strong backs and shiny round heads, the sky that stretches on and on in its vastness. However, the days are long, and the little girl is lonely. Then she meets Bronze, who, unable to speak, is ostracised by the other village boys. Soon the pair are inseparable, and when Bronze's family agree to take Sunflower in, it seems that fate has brought him the sister he has always longed for. But life in Damaidi is hard, and Bronze's family can barely afford to feed themselves. Will the city girl be able to stay in this place where she has finally found happiness?
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