Fu Ping was chosen by Nainai to marry her adopted grandson, but Fu Ping merely wanted to escape her aunt and uncle’s home. Her desire to avoid the inevitable takes her on adventures where she learns about the working class individuals in her neighborhood. Chapters are told from the perspectives of these individuals, leading back to their connection with Fu Ping, always changed by her encounters. Though a little disjointed at times due to the format, this tale enlightens Dear Reader to the insights of working class Chinese who may struggle financially and feel trapped at their social level, but remain hopeful in their relationships and futures. I received this unusual novel from the publisher Columbia University Press through NetGalley.
Abandoned by her mother at 7, Jialing comes of age as a bond servant to a wealthy family. The education provided her through extraordinary circumstances is for naught, for she is zazhong—Eurasian, an outsider. A fox spirit guides Jialing through a hostile culture as the young woman discovers that she can take no one’s identity at face value. In the tumultuous times of early 20th century China, a politically-motivated murder endangers her life and the man she loves.
Jialing automatically accepts the centuries-old fox spirit, a shape-shifter who also appears as a woman, and a conduit for the girl to travel through time and space along with the spirit. Chang brilliantly portrays the fox spirit’s abilities and limitations, fully developing her complex character with her own conflicts and goals, including friendships and romantic love. Loyalty to her human friends drives her actions, as a companion and a source of wisdom.
Tension is maintained throughout the story as bigotry slams door after door in Jialing’s face, opportunities as fleeting as the wind, and she learns her precarious place in her world, yet always yearns for more. In early 1900s China, even a child is suspect if of mixed race, so that her continued existence relies on the good will of others. Chang weaves this prejudice throughout a storyline of journalistic intrigue, political criminality, rape and murder, showing how Jialing’s zazhong life is worth nothing to anyone.
As a fan of historical fiction with speculative elements, I loved learning about another culture with mystical aspects, and I highly recommend this novel and author Janie Chang. Check her out: https://janiechang.com/