Book Review : Three Sisters

Hello everyone. Apologies that this has been the first post in a couple of weeks, I’ve been itching to get my hands on a decent camera so I can post again! I thought I would write a book review today, for the first time – feedback is much appreciated on these types of posts!

I posted in December of the 25 Novels I read in 2015, and again in January including some of the novels and titles on my radar for 2016 as part of my New Year’s resolution to read 30 novels!

The Book

Three Sisters is a novel written by Bi Feiyu, and marks the first milestone in my journey of 30 novels. A short online synopsis I found described Three Sisters as [the] story of three very different young women struggling to find a place in Mao’s Communist China. Yumi, Yuxiu and Yuyang are in fact blood sisters, rather than sisters formed of bonds of friendship like the synopsis might imply. They belong to the Wang family village, where at the beginning of the tale focusing first on Yumi, their father, Wang Lianfang, acts as party secretary.

I purchased this book on kindle and had not given the synopsis a read prior to beginning, and so at first I thought the book was set at a time much longer ago than it actually is [1980s], which gives you a sense for how isolated and far behind in terms of social progress the People’s Republic of China truly is.

Marriages are still arranged as means of advancement of status, both economically and politically. Girls are considered devalued should their virginity not be intact at the point of their betrothal – an issue which rears it’s ugly head in different ways for each of the three young girls; and women are viewed as subservient and Children of little value unless born male.

The Plot

The book is split into 3, one book for each of the three sisters the story centers around.

Yumi, the eldest daughter, is strong minded, intelligent, and considered very highly in her village, especially after the birth of Hong Bing, her father’s 8th child and only son. Yumi steps up to the plate taking care of her little brother, also known fondly as little eight (Wang Lianfang had 7 daughters with his wife prior to the birth of his son).

The Family’s story begins with a match being made for Yumi to a young aviator, and thought not from a wealthy background, he is considered highly as he can conquer the sky. Yumi rapidly falls in love with him through writing to him, though she struggles communicating as she has not been to school to learn how to write and read properly.

Unfortunately, the family is thrown into chaos, as Party secretary Wang Lianfang is caught sleeping with the wife of another party member, and cannot be allowed to remain in his post. Shortly after this, two of her sisters, one of them Yuxiu, are snatched by some of the villagers and raped.

These events contribute to the termination of her engagement to her Aviator, and Yumi’s fate is redirected.

These events act a catalyst for Yuxiu and Yumi’s tales to split, then intertwine once more, as they face each other in a battle of wills and temperament.

Aside from the tale of Yumi and Yuxiu, we follow Yuyang, their younger and more intelligent sister (intelligence by the logic of the Communist party is the ability to memorise information, and recite it). She attends a boarding school with other girls, and there are tensions displayed between the girls thought to be ‘country’ and girls from the city.

What I thought

Once the realisation dawned that the novel was set in the 1980s, I was amazed at how easy it had been to mistake the era and setting for much earlier, if not even the century before.

Bi Feiyu’s writing style is very clear and unclouded by complicated imagery, yet manages to capture perfectly the sentiments, hopes and dreams of the women the narrative centres upon.

Whilst I initially admired Yumi, I felt that she had a tendency to be rather naive. Yuxiu irritated me initially and came across as manipulative, however as her tale ‘concludes’, I am left feeling sorry for her. Yuyang, likewise is a very naive young woman and yet is very level headed and the most relatable of the three.

I was disappointed that Yuyang’s tale did not overlap with Yumi’s or Yuxiu’s, as it in fact developed in it’s own right with no mention of Wang family village at all.

The novel is almost a snapshot of a short year period into the lives of these women at a strange and turbulent time for China, and we are left without knowing the fate of Yuxiu, Yuyang and Yumi, along with answers to the many dilemmas they faced during the novel. In spite of this, the novel was an engaging read, and I would recommend to people who have an interest in Eastern Literature and enjoy reading about the lives of women through the ages and through different political and socioeconomic lenses.

I hope you enjoyed my book review, and keep following for more as I progress through my list this year!

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