When an author or publicist contacts you about reviewing a book and the description sounds enticing, it’s frustrating to know it’s going to be several months before you’ll be able to get around to reading and reviewing the book. Such is the case when Penny at Author Marketing Experts contacted me about Song of Praise for A Flower by Fengxian Chu and Charlene Chu. I remember loving Wild Swans by Jung Chang when I read it some years ago and I have recently read The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. Therefore, I was interested in reading more about the history of China, especially testimony that focuses on women’s experiences.
However, although it’s going to be a while until I get to read Song of Praise for a Flower, that doesn’t mean I should hide it away from followers of my blog who may not have such large review piles as me. I’m pleased to say I have an extract from the book below. If the sound of it excites you as much as it did me, you can find purchase links below.
About the Book
For nearly two decades, this manuscript lay hidden in a Chinese bank vault until a long-lost cousin from America inspired 92-year-old author Fengxian Chu to unearth it.
Song of Praise for a Flower traces a century of Chinese history through the experiences of one woman and her family, from the dark years of World War II and China’s civil war to the tragic Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution, and beyond. It is a window into a faraway world, a sweeping epic about China’s tumultuous transformation and a harrowing yet ultimately uplifting story of a remarkable woman who survives it all and finally finds peace and tranquillity.
Chu’s story begins in the 1920s in an idyllic home in the heart of China’s rice country. Her life is a struggle from the start. At a young age, she defies foot-binding and an arranged marriage and sneaks away from home to attend school. Her young adulthood is thrown into turmoil when the Japanese invade and ransack her village. Later her family is driven to starvation when Mao Zedong’s Communist Party seizes power and her husband is branded a ‘bad element.’ After Mao’s death in the 1970s, as China picks up the pieces and moves in a new direction, Chu eventually finds herself in a glittering city on the sea adjacent to Hong Kong, worlds away in both culture and time from the place she came from.
Praise for Song of Praise for a Flower
“Fengxian Chu’s first-person account of growing up female in feudal rural China is ultimately as uplifting as it is heart wrenching. Beautiful and bravely written. Bravo.” [Michael J. Totten, author of Where the West Ends]
Format: eBook, paperback (488 pp.) Publisher:
Published: 21st November 2017 Genre: Memoir, History, Non-Fiction
Find Song of Praise for a Flower on Goodreads
Extract from Song of Praise for a Flower by Fengxian Chu and Charlene Chu
The Xiang River
For millennia, the mighty Xiang (Syŏng) River has pulsed through the lush, rolling hills of Hunan Province in southern China. The region’s famous rice paddies derive their rich, green hue from the Xiang, and it is on the banks of this river that generations of Hunanese families have flourished. In Chinese, “Xiang (湘)” is the abbreviated name for Hunan, which I think makes perfect sense because, whenever we natives think of home, often the first thing that comes to mind is this beloved river. Several decades ago, when I was a young woman, I bade farewell to the Xiang and have had the opportunity to return only twice. Yet the river continues to run through my veins as vigorously today as it did when I was just a little girl.
Nestled amid the long and winding current of the Xiang River rests the small, graceful village of my youth: Huaguo, or Flower and Fruit, in eastern Hunan Province. Huaguo embraces miles of fertile land and luxuriant forest, crisscrossed with green willows and tall bamboo. Small homes dot the hillsides. Men cultivate the fields while women weave in the courtyards, each working diligently every day. Grey-haired seniors play with lively children, bringing abundant smiles and harmony to the village.
Huaguo is surrounded by numerous hills to the north, east, and south and the Xiang River to the west. Deep within the hills are ancient caves and dozens of narrow, winding paths leading to small valleys. In this openness lie numerous small brooks, gurgling and glistening in the sun, and grass and wild flowers that emit a beautiful, delicate fragrance. Huaguo is the kind of place the soul never forgets.
At the entrance of Huaguo stands Fengmen Railway Station. Although not large, the station used to serve as a key stop for trains passing through Hunan because of its proximity to the water. Day and night, trains stopped at Fengmen Station to add water to the steam engines, bringing business and swarms of passengers to the village.
The passenger cars, platform, and waiting hall would become over-run with villagers hawking food and other goods, their cries sonorous and rhythmic. Many of the hawkers were young and as agile as monkeys, leaping across the tracks and climbing into passenger cars. Sometimes these boys would remain on the train selling goods even after it took off, jumping down fearlessly only after the train reached full speed.
Not far from Fengmen Station was a narrow street that used to form the center of town and was filled with small restaurants, stores, tea houses, gambling parlors, and the local fortune teller. The street terminated at the Xiang River, where several small ferry boats sat waiting to transport passengers across the water to the town of Fengmen, another village bustling with activity.
When I was growing up as a young girl, one of the liveliest times of year was the annual Dragon Boat Festival, when teams from Huaguo and Fengmen would compete in a race on the Xiang River. The festival, held on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar, commemorates the famous Chinese poet Qu Yuan, who, according to legend, drowned himself in a river for his motherland in 278 B.C. To distract the fish from eating the poet’s corpse, the legend says that villagers threw rice and other food into the river. In honor of Qu Yuan’s patriotism, Chinese people re-enact this event every year by tossing pyramid-shaped dumplings into water.
The day of the festival, villagers from Huaguo and Fengmen would don their best clothes and flock to the river to toss dumplings and watch the race. On both sides of the river, the streets and banks would be packed with a sea of horse carts and spectators. At the crack of a drum, a dozen colorfully decorated dragon boats would charge ahead, splashing spectators with water as they sped down the river to the beat of the drum. The cheers of the villagers would mingle with the roars of the drums and reverberate through the sky, awakening the God of Heaven and Dragon King of the Ocean. After the race, colorful pennants would be handed to each member of the triumphant team, and the audience would linger for hours, basking in the joy of the moment.
The province of Hunan is said to be a land flowing with milk and honey, with picturesque scenery and a soothing climate of four distinct seasons. In spring, plants sprout, flowers blossom, and birds sing in joy. In summer, trees become lush and verdant. In autumn, ripening fruits tug at tree limbs, and red and yellow leaves fall to the ground signaling the approach of winter, when leaves wither and die, and a thin layer of white blankets the land.
Women of Hunan are known for their gentleness, courtesy, and passion. They love the young and respect the old and are virtuous wives and mothers. Hunan’s women are the shining pearl of the province. It is no wonder so many ancient emperors and leaders, including Chairman Mao, came from this magical environment.
About the Author – Fengxian Chu
Raised in Hunan Province, China, Fengxian Chu spent most of her life living and working on a farm. She attended college briefly, but her education was interrupted when the Japanese army invaded her village in the 1940s. A writer and poet from a young age, she is unique among her generation of rural Chinese women, the majority of whom never attended school and are illiterate. Song of Praise for a Flower is Fengxian’s first work to be published, and among the only known first-person accounts from a woman of her generation about life during China’s turbulent past century. Now in her 90s, she enjoys gardening and spending time with her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. She resides in Shenzhen, China.
About the Author – Charlene Chu
Co-author Charlene Chu, Fengxian’s first cousin, grew up in the United States and wrote the English rendering of Song of Praise for a Flower. A financial analyst well-known for her work on China’s economy and financial sector, she is quoted widely in the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Bloomberg, Business Insider and other media outlets. She holds an MBA and MA in International Relations from Yale University. Song of Praise for a Flower is her first book. Charlene splits her time between Washington, DC and Hong Kong.
Connect with Charlene