Monday, July 23, 2007

February Flowers by Fan Wu

February Flowers by Fan Wu
Washington Square Press; August 2007 (ARE)
Fiction; 244 pgs

Completed: 07/23/2007
Rating: * (Good)

First Sentence: After my marriage ends I move to a one-bedroom apartment five blocks from the university where I studied twelve years ago.

Reason for Reading: The novel was sent to be by the publisher Simon & Schuster for review. I decided to read it because the subject matter and setting intrigued me.

From the Publisher: Set in modern China, February Flowers tells the stories of two young women's journeys to self-discovery and reconciliation with the past.

Seventeen-year-old Ming and twenty-four-year-old Yan have very little in common other than studying at the same college. Ming, idealistic and preoccupied, lives in her own world of books, music, and imagination. Yan, by contrast, is sexy but cynical, beautiful but wild, with no sense of home. When the two meet and become friends, Ming's world is forever changed. But their differences in upbringing and ideology ultimately drive them apart, leaving each to face her dark secret alone.

Insightful, sophisticated, and rich with complex characters, February Flowers captures a society torn between tradition and modernity, dogma and freedom. It is a meditation on friendship, family, love, loss, and redemption and how a background shapes a life.

Comments: February Flowers is one of those novels that ends with a big question mark and gives pause for contemplation. There are no easy answers at the end, no clean break. There is quite a bit of ambiguity and yet also a sense of hope. This book would make a great book club selection,; it’s just ripe for discussion.

Narrated by seventeen year old Ming, the story begins with Ming looking back on the year she met Yan, a woman who would forever haunt her thoughts long after the two parted ways. Ming is the good girl while Yan is the “bad” one. The two are unlikely friends from the start and yet their friendship blossomed and grew, each of them admiring in the other what she herself did not possess. Each longed for intimacy and friendship and found it with each other.

The differences in the old traditions versus modern ideas played a big part throughout the novel. Ideas about sex and sexuality were among those differences. While Ming was growing up, sexuality was not discussed at all; this was exemplified by Ming’s utter lack of knowledge about the act of sex itself. It was an enigma to her. Homosexuality was viewed as a mental illness and considered wrong. The author also touches upon the cultural aspects of relationships between men and women as well as that of parents and children, offering readers a look into the society Ming and Yan lived in.

The author captured the sense of place: university life in the big city of Guangzhou, China, a place where many students, including Ming and Yan, longed to settle and work. The descriptions of the places as well as the culture brought the city to life. It was an environment that was very different from that of both Yan and Ming’s hometowns. Ming had spent most of her life on a farm where her parents had been re-located during the Cultural Revolution for “re-education”. Yan was a minority from Yunnan, a place she wished not to speak of or return to if she could help it.

Overall, February Flowers was an enjoyable reading experience. The novel is one that inspires thought and discussion and lingers on the mind long after completion.

Unfortunately, I never quite settled into the novel quite like I would have liked. While I felt sorry for Yan in some respects, I never really cared for her character. She remained somewhat elusive throughout the novel. On the other hand, I felt some affection for Ming, in part because I could relate to her in the sense that she was studious and an avid reader, preferring books to people, as I imagine a few of us readers occasionally do.

Perhaps my biggest fault with the book, which is no fault of the author’s and really only a complaint about the Advance Uncorrected Proof I received, is that the font used failed to record the italicized words. Ming, being quite the reader, makes references to several titles and yet they were nowhere to be found, only blank spaces. Chinese words that might have been used here and there were also missing. As a person who sometimes likes to look up the books the characters are reading, this was quite disappointing, not to mention a bit distracting.

For an interview with the author on writing this particular book check out the Compulsive Reader website.

10 comments:

  1. Have you found that is an issue with Advance Uncorrected Proofs before, or just with this book? I have a few of those lying around and haven't even opened them (partly out of fear of just this sort of thing).

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  2. Well this sounds interesting so I'll have to keep my eyes open for when it comes out. I can imagine that the uncorrected proof would annoy. I've received one or two uncorrected proofs and luckily they were fine.

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  3. This really sounds interesting. I love books with a strong sense of place, especially when they are about places I don't know much about. It's too bad you didn't really like one of the characters, though - that's something that can ruin a book for me.

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  4. Kookie - I have never run into this exact problem with an advanced copy before. Sure some have typos, but not to the point of having every italicized word missing. It really detracted from the book. I doubt you will have that problem with the ones you have unless it's this particular title. :-)


    Iliana - I think had it been something less obvious, like a typo here and there, I wouldn't even have given it a thought. Luckily this is the only time I've run into this exact problem. If you do decide to read this one, I'd be curious to hear what you think.

    Nymeth - Yes, I find that the characters can make or break a book for me. I've come to appreciate books that have characters I don't like--the anti-hero idea, but it has to be done just right. And usually in those cases there is minor character I can latch onto.

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  5. This actually sounds like a very good book. In the last few years, I've started reading a lot of books about the middle East, Africa, and China. I love reading about different cultures!

    By the way, I tagged you for a blogging meme. That darned Sci-Fi Chick hit me up!!

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  6. You motivated me to get to another meme I'd let sit long enough. LOL

    I really enjoy reading about other countries and cultures too. If you do decide to read this one, I'll be curious to know what you think.

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  7. I'm reading this book, right now, and I have to keep reminding myself to pay attention. I don't know if it's just bad timing or what. But, the missing words are definitely irritating. I've been fascinated by her description of the dilapidated, rat-infested dormitory. Ewwww.

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  8. Don't you wish our covers looked as nice as the actual book cover, Nancy? Haha Yes, the image of the rat-infested dormitory was not a good one. When I was living in the dorms, my husband (then boyfriend) had a rat get stuck in an empty garbage can just inside their door. I was out of that room so fast . . . It was days before I would go back in. LOL Luckily, the rats weren't all that common inside the dorms.

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  9. Yes! The real cover is gorgeous! In fact, mine was crunched in transit, so it's quite a crumpled copy, anyway. I'd have hated it if a beautiful copy had been mauled by the post office.

    See, I'm just really grateful for how clean our dorms were, now!!! We didn't even see bugs, in spite of how messy college kids can be (you know, all that take-out pizza).

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  10. Poor book! It is better you didn't have one with the pretty cover then.

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