Tag Archives: Books for Chinese New Year

Review : Song of Everlasting Sorrow by Wang Anyi

Book Review of The Song of Everlasting Sorrow: A Novel of Shanghai by Wang Anyi

The Song of Everlasting Sorrow: A Novel of ShanghaiMy Thoughts after Reading

This literary fiction is translated from a Chinese work. It takes its title from a classic Tang dynasty poem about the tragic love between the Emperor and his favourite concubine.

Right from the opening chapter, the author invites you to step inside the world and relish in every minutiae of Shanghai life. I am amazed at how the author is able to describe so much about everyday things we take for granted, from apartment blocks to pigeons.

I recognised some of the expressions in Chinese. In some ways, I would say the beauty of the language in the original text is lost in translation. I say this because a single word in Chinese, after translation, becomes a three syllable word in English, or a string of words to describe the same context. When the rhythm is lost, the reader can only grasp about 70-80% of the author’s original intent.

This story centres on Wang Qiyao, from a high-schooler all the way to her death decades later. Although she is the main character, this account is narrated from a detached omniscient view. Right to the end, I didn’t really understand her. I felt as if I’ve seen her entire life through frosted glass. People came and went in her life. They seem to be drawn to her, but apart from her beauty, I could not understand why. She lived through the tumultuous times in China history, but the author has skirted round these historical events. We get little hints that it’s going on outside.

Nonetheless, the unhurried pace allows you to immerse completely in every aspect of Shanghai life. 3/5

Goodreads Blurb

Set in post-World War II Shanghai, “The Song of Everlasting Sorrow” follows the adventures of Wang Qiyao, a girl born of the “longtong,” the crowded, labyrinthine alleys of Shanghai’s working-class neighborhoods.

Infatuated with the glitz and glamour of 1940s Hollywood, Wang Qiyao seeks fame in the Miss Shanghai beauty pageant, and this fleeting moment of stardom becomes the pinnacle of her life. During the next four decades, Wang Qiyao indulges in the decadent pleasures of pre-liberation Shanghai, secretly playing mahjong during the antirightist Movement and exchanging lovers on the eve of the Cultural Revolution. Surviving the vicissitudes of modern Chinese history, Wang Qiyao emerges in the 1980s as a purveyor of “old Shanghai”–a living incarnation of a new, commodified nostalgia that prizes splendor and sophistication–only to become embroiled in a tragedy that echoes the pulpy Hollywood noirs of her youth.

From the violent persecution of communism to the liberalism and openness of the age of reform, this sorrowful tale of old China versus new, of perseverance in the face of adversity, is a timeless rendering of our never-ending quest for transformation and beauty. 

Review : Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Middle-grade book review Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Front DeskMy Thoughts after Reading

This middle-grade book is about the struggles of a family of Chinese immigrants who went to America to escape the Cultural Revolution in China.

Mia’s parents took up this job running a motel as it offered free accommodation. However, the package was not an perfect as they were led to believe and the family have to work very hard just to make ends meet. Mia enrols in a new school and makes a new friend. At home, she takes care of the front desk duties. We are introduced to the weekly tenants and fellow Chinese immigrants. Before long, she shows us how efficient and resourceful she is.

Moving to a new country is never easy, even more so if you don’t speak the language. In this account, we also see the struggles of fellow immigrants, their culture shocks and gaffs and the traps they fall into. There is also a strong theme on racial prejudice she experiences and witnesses. This book has several themes that can be explored in a classroom. Mia’s approach to seeking justice on behalf of her friends is worthy of discussion.

Mia’s struggles means her maturity is higher than your average middle-grade reader. This book can be extended to a young YA reader. If you are looking for a similar theme aimed for a younger reader, Pie in the Sky is worth checking out. 3/5

Goodreads Blurb

Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.

Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.

Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.

Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?

It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?

Review : Dragon Mountain by Katie and Kevin Tsang

Middle-grade book review of Dragon Mountain by Katie Tsang

Dragon MountainGoodreads Blurb

Deep within the mountain, a great creature stirred in its sleep. Its eyes rolled back in its head, and its wings jerked wide open…

When 12-year-old Billy Chan finds out his parents are sending him to a summer camp in middle-of-nowhere China he doesn’t know what to expect. There he meets fellow campers Dylan, Charlotte and Ling-Fei and together they stumble upon an age-old secret: four powerful warrior dragons, hidden deep within the mountain behind the camp. They have been trapped since an epic battle with the Dragon of Death and need the children’s help to set them free before terrible evil is unleashed on the earth. Billy and his friends must set off on a dangerous adventure that will take them to the heart of the Dragon Realm. But can they save the dragon and human worlds from destruction?

My Thoughts after Reading

This middle-grade book is about an unexpected twist during a summer camp in China.

Billy would rather be surfing back home in California than endure a summer camp to polish up his Mandarin. He gets teamed up with three other children and on their first activity they venture into forbidden part of the area as a short cut to their destination. They survived an earthquake but to their surprise everyone else at camp did not experience it. One of his team-mates had lost her precious necklace. Returning for it, they discovered the cave of dragons and their adventure began.

If you enjoyed The Golden Compass, you’ll also enjoy this story as they have a similar bonding with their dragons. I liked how the authors had merged Eastern and Western folklores of dragons. I also liked how they gave representation to mixed-race children who grow up having extra expectations heaped on them. But this book did not dwell on the characters that deeply. On the contrary, the children leapt from one crisis to another in this is fast-paced story.

This is one for readers moving on from chapter books. 3/5