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Women of the Silk: A Novel
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Manufacturer: St. Martin's Griffin
Average Customer Rating: Average rating of 4.0/5Average rating of 4.0/5Average rating of 4.0/5Average rating of 4.0/5Average rating of 4.0/5

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Binding: Paperback
Dewey Decimal Number: 813.54
EAN: 9780312099435
ISBN: 0312099436
Label: St. Martin's Griffin
Manufacturer: St. Martin's Griffin
Number Of Items: 1
Number Of Pages: 288
Publication Date: 1993-10-15
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Release Date: 1993-10-15
Studio: St. Martin's Griffin

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Editorial Reviews:

In Women of the Silk Gail Tsukiyama takes her readers back to rural China in 1926, where a group of women forge a sisterhood amidst the reeling machines that reverberate and clamor in a vast silk factory from dawn to dusk. Leading the first strike the village has ever seen, the young women use the strength of their ambition, dreams, and friendship to achieve the freedom they could never have hoped for on their own. Tsukiyama's graceful prose weaves the details of "the silk work" and Chinese village life into a story of courage and strength.

Spotlight customer reviews:

Customer Rating: Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5
Summary: A Road Less Traveled....& A Good Read
Comment: Though the townsfolk regarded the silk workers as odd spinsters, warped, and rejected by society, the portraits of Pei and Lin dare to imply that their lives were actually satisfying alternatives to women's traditional roles of wife and mother. In this well done debut novel, Gail Tsukiyama (who is half Chinese and half Japanese) explores women's relationships within the framework of economic and political change in rural China between 1919 and 1938. Women of the Silk offers a rare window into the details of the silk making process and into the lives led by the women devoted to this industry. Tsukiyama suggests that the beauty and joy the simplicity of the silk working women's lives brought them could not only exist, but could also be fulfilling. Arguably, the author also implies that a kind of satisfaction can be achieved within female bonds that does not exist between men and women.

The story's heroine, Pei, grows up on a struggling fish farm in the Canton countryside. When her parents confirm, through a fortune-teller's assessment, that the intellectually curious and sensitive girl is not marriage material, Pei's father leaves her at Auntie Yee's silk factory to help support the family and to learn the trade for her own future. Throughout her short life, Pei's mother "had to quiet her spirit with scoldings, so that life would be easier for her later. It was hard enough to find a husband of worth, because a girl with such spirit was not wanted by most families." Pei's energy, intellect, and natural curiosity count against her in the marriage market, but they are precisely the traits that enable her to thrive in the life of the silk sisterhood. Pei's spunk and intellect serves her well in her silk work, and she readily rises among the ranks. She also begins to find the company of the women, especially Lin, fulfilling. Pei was only eight when she was given to the silk factory, so she was grateful that Lin almost immediately befriended her and became a substitute for and agreeable alternative to Pei's family. She is able to accept her fate once she feels secure within Lin's friendship, guidance, and support.

The like-minded Lin has come to the silk factory to help support her family, after her well-to-do father is murdered. The two girls' friendship deepens as they face twelve-hour days and overcome the various hardships and tragedies of the silk factory. The relationship eventually becomes so strong that Lin gives up the chance for an advantageous marriage situation that will provide a financially fortunate life for herself and her family in favor of undertaking the "hairdressing ceremony," where she will pledge to devote the rest of her life to the silk sisterhood and thus be able to remain with Pei forever. At age 16, Pei decides to undergo the hairdressing ceremony in order to stay with Lin forever. Their relationship has become as satisfying to them as any marriage might be and is possibly more rewarding as they have had the opportunity to choose one another--whereas Chinese marriages were traditionally arranged by the family, and the couple often had never met each other before the wedding day.

After the Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s, Lin is killed in a fire, and the silk factory is forced to close. Pei must leave behind the beauty of the countryside she loves, the sisterhood she cherishes, and her crucial memories of Lin. The book ends with her facing a new life, as she sails for the safer shores of Hong Kong.

Women of the Silk qualifies as a tribute to the road less traveled, where a woman was given to or chose work rather than to marriage and family. For Tsukiyama's heroines in this story, the silk sisterhood offers them a taste of freedom, a sense of self esteem, and a unique and positive experience, suggesting that there can be an upside to an alternative lifestyle.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: What a great read
Comment: I really enjoyed this book. It was a great read, and I learned a few things.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5
Summary: Working the silk
Comment: The world described by Gail Tsukiyama in this novel is not one with which most readers will be familiar. Set in the early 20th century in rural China, this is simultaneously a story of the effects of rural poverty on a family and a story of friendship, hope and courage.

`Women of the Silk' covers almost 20 years in the life of Pei from 1919 when she is sent to work in a silk factory until 1938 when she flees to Hong Kong just ahead of the advancing Japanese invasion of China.

Pei's early years are spent with her family on their impoverished farm. She is then taken to the silk factory where the wages she earns are assigned to her family. Initially terrified at being abandoned, Pei soon finds friendship in the communal environment of the factory and the girls' house where she lives. Pei's natural curiosity enables her to quickly acquire knowledge of the silk work, and she makes a number of friends. At the same time, she does not forget her family.

The story of Pei and her family and the story of the silk workers are set against the background of the Chinese Civil War and the Sino-Japanese War. These were turbulent times for the Chinese and this is reflected in the novel.

The details of the silk work, the elegance of the hairdressing ceremony, the characters, their choices and challenges all make this an enjoyable novel. It is not just a story about women for women: it is a story of great change and of difficult choices.

This was Ms Tsukiyama's debut novel and one which I would recommend highly.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Customer Rating: Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5
Summary: Lovely prose about the world of women
Comment: Sometimes it's the novels about the simpliest of things that can really strike at me. This slim book from author Gail Tsukiyama takes the reader into the China before the Japanese invasion of WWII and the rise of Communism, into a world of women that most of us living in the West could not hope to fathom.

Pei is a curious child, always asking her parents questions, unlike her quieter sister Li. Her earliest memories are those of her mother suffering in childbirth, giving birth to another daughter, and only to watch the infant die later. It's a hard life for her family, tending to fish ponds and a grove of mulberry trees, and some years there is little to sell. With all of the backbreaking labour, there is not very much energy left for a small girl who asks too many questions. After a fortune-teller tells the family that it will be Pei who will bring much happiness, her parents decide to send her away.

Pei isn't very old, not much more than five or six when her father takes her to the town of Yung Kee and the house of Auntie Yee. Auntie Yee lives in a house filled with girls and helped by the rather dour Moi, where all of the children dress in white clothing and work together in a vast silk factory. What Pei doesn't know is that the money that she earns will pay for her room and board, and be sent back home to help her family survive.

At first there is loneliness and heartache as Pei hears nothing more from her family, and learning the work of sorting, boiling and spinning silk comes easily to her. But she is able to make friends, especially with the slightly older Lin, a young woman from a prosperous family fallen on hard times in nearby Canton. Lin and Pei form a steadfast friendship, one that endures through death and changes as China starts to fall towards war with the Japanese.

Written in a rather simple style that gradually matures as Pei grows up, this is a beautiful little novel of the hidden lives of women. Gail Tsukiyama shows change and sometimes shifts the story to the people around Pei, revealling heartache and hardship that may be difficult for most of us living today to grasp. Auntie Yee reveals her own story of loss, Lin faces hatred and rejection from her mother, one girl is seduced and abandoned by a lover. But there are good things as well -- there are the festivals, a grand wedding, and most of all, the friendships that are formed between the women.

What caught my attention the most was the realization that for most children born in the early part of the 20th century and still true today, life isn't one of shooling and play, but rather work that ages them before their time, is dangerous -- many of Pei's co-workers suffer injuries and burns in preparing silk cocoons for weaving -- and nearly always underpaid. It's a sobering thought, but Tsukiyama keeps the prose from becoming preachy or unbearably grim. Instead, she treats things just as they are, and that's where the effectiveness and power of the story lays.

For anyone looking for unique view of China, this is a must read. The characters are sympathetic, the writing flows easily and beautifully, and while there isn't any sort of happy ending -- quite the opposite, it is a novel full of stark beauty.

There is a sequel of sorts, The Language of Threads, which continues Pei's story. I really enjoyed this novel, and intend to find more of Ms. Tsukiyama's work in the future.

Four stars overall, recommended.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5
Comment: Follow the story of Pei, brought by her reluctant father to work in the silk house in 1919 at the age of seven, as she acclimates to her new environment and overcomes many obstacles and twists of fate to become a quietly determined young woman.

Focusing on the theme of the Chinese family, this beautiful narrative first exposes us to the culture and difficult circumstances of village life and later to the dawn to dusk struggle facing each of the silk factory women (who are in reality children when they are brought to the factory). Most are here to help in supporting their families at home.......some are here willingly, others not.

Tsukiyama shows us that these "silk women" are themselves a family in the truest sense of the word, with each member focused on their individual ambitions, dreams and situations, while accepting the desires of their "sisters" and remaining devoted and fiercely loyal to one another as they struggle for survival. Slowly comes the reader's realization that it takes more than an accident of birth to make one a mother, and that the lack of common genetic material does not make these women any less a family.

This has all the ingredients of a great read.......love, compassion, ambition, deceit, abandonment, courage and of course a great history lesson in women's rights (or lack of them). If Snowflower and the Secret Fan is one of your favorites, this one will also be added to your list of MUST READS.

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