All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

February Flowers – Fan Wu

on September 6, 2010

Ming, barely 17 is a first year student at University in the rich and prosperous city of Guangzhou. She is studious, with an avid interest in literature. Her parents were scholars, teachers but were exiled to a farm to work as peasants. They lived an unfulfilled life, particularly in the case of her father, and it seems that they are hopeful for Ming to have many opprtunities to learn and study. She is intelligent, having skipped several grades in school, which is how she comes to be so young at University.

By contrast, Yan is 24. She came to university late, at about 21, through a program that allows rural and ‘minority’ students to come to cities like Guangzhou and get their degrees. However they must return to their hometowns unless they secure a permanent job, or get someone with residency in the city to marry them.

Ming sees Yan several times, but the two meet quite by chance on the roof of their dormitory building. It is clear Ming has had a conservative, sheltered upbringing whereas Yan is much more worldly, even progressive for the time and place. Ming sees herself as a girl – but Yan is a ‘woman’. She dresses differently, she has many and varied man friends, she knows things. She knows what it is to be a woman and Ming desperately wants to know.

The two form a very close and unlikely friendship. Their differences are glaringly obvious in every conversation they have. Ming hungers for the experiences Yan can give her, and her knowledge. Even though at times, Yan treats her carelessly, even nastily, she cannot walk away. Yan on the other hand, can and does, several times, although she always comes back. They disagree, they make up, they love each other, they grow closer.

I have to admit, I spent a great deal of the book disliking Yan. I found her frustrating, disliked her treatment of the much more naïve Ming. She seemed to be using her, for ego and for academic gain but she redeemed herself for me in the end. I found I understood her much more by the end of the book and with that understanding, I could like her, accept her for who she was.

I have never studied China in any capacity at all – not in school, not even through my political and social university courses. I know very little about it and this book was quite the eye opener. I found it hard to remember at times that it was set from 1992 onwards, when seventeen year old girls don’t know what sex is, or how a woman gets pregnant. It was like reading something from a time far more in the past. One shining example of this is a conversation that Ming and her room mates have about sexuality after seeing two girls kissing and caressing in a pornographic magazine that one of the room mates obtained on the ‘black market’. Another room mate states that she has ‘heard of homosexuals and that it is a mental disease – they {the girls} must be American”. When another room mate points out the women are Asian, the first responds that they must be Japanese as homsexuals only exist in capitalist countries. It’s hard, as a girl who grew up in a Western country where children as young as five are aware, in great detail, where babies come from, and where gay teenagers regularly come out in high school (the first I knew of was a friend of mine in my year 10 geography class in 1997) to imagine a world where University students are so innocent. Where everything they know and learn is controlled by the government and that propaganda like that exists.

For me personally, I found the pacing of this novel a bit lacking. The novel starts in the present, some 10 years after Ming last saw Yan, and then travels back to when they met and the time they spent together. After Ming and Yan part, it returns to the present. The huge bulk of the book is spent back in the past, and that section for me, meanders very slowly. It wasn’t unenjoyable, I did keep reading, and finished the book quite quickly, so it was very easy to read. But in comparison, the time spent with adult Ming was very short and clipped. We learn nothing really of the ‘woman’ she has become, and considering her wanting to become a woman was a big part of the novel, I found that a bit disappointing. I wanted more of how Yan’s departure affected her and how she grew as a person after that. More on her university life and then her graduation. All we get are a few sentences that don’t really tell us all that much – other than ‘I did this, then I did this, and this happened’. All telling, no showing. I didn’t get a feel for adult Ming at all, and after the length of time and greatness of detail dedicated to adolescent Ming, I would’ve liked that chance.


Looking for another opinion? Check out Shannon’s review over at Giraffe Days.

(Book #62 of my 75 Book Challenge)

This book counts towards my 2010 Global Challenge

The Medium Challenge
Read two novels from each of these continents in the course of 2010:
Africa: #1: A Change In Altitude, by Anita Shreve. Set in Kenya
Asia: #1: The Blood of Flowers, by Anita Amirrezvani. Set in Persia/Iran. #2 February Flowers, by Fan Wu. Set in China.
Australasia: #1: Vodka Doesn’t Freeze, by Leah Giarratano. Set in Sydney, Australia.
Europe: #1: Cold Granite, by Stuart MacBride. Set in Aberdeen, Scotland.
North America (incl Central America): #1 Cat’s Eye, by Margaret Atwood. Set in Toronto, Canada.
South America
Try to find novels from twelve different countries or states.

This completes the Asian leg of my challenge!

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