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Gail Tsukiyama's A Hundred Flowers is powerful novel about an ordinary family facing extraordinary times at the start of the Chinese Cultural Revolution
China, 1957. Chairman Mao has declared a new openness in society: "Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend." Many intellectuals fear it is only a trick, and Kai Ying's husband, Sheng, a teacher, has promised not to jeopardize their safety or that of their young son, Tao. But one July morning, just before his sixth birthday, Tao watches helplessly as Sheng is dragged away for writing a letter criticizing the Communist Party and sent to a labor camp for "reeducation."
A year later, still missing his father desperately, Tao climbs to the top of the hundred-year-old kapok tree in front of their home, wanting to see the mountain peaks in the distance. But Tao slips and tumbles thirty feet to the courtyard below, badly breaking his leg.
As Kai Ying struggles to hold her small family together in the face of this shattering reminder of her husband's absence, other members of the household must face their own guilty secrets and strive to find peace in a world where the old sense of order is falling. Once again, Tsukiyama brings us a powerfully moving story of ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances with grace and courage.
Tsukiyama's new novel takes place in 1958 and its title comes from Chairman Mao's 1957 declaration of openness: "Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend." What actually blooms is fear and confusion, when university professor and intellectual Sheng Ying is taken by the police to a re-education camp, leaving his wife, Kai Ying, son Tao, aunt Song, and father Wei, also a professor, to make sense of his fate. To protect Tao, his mother tells him that his father is away working, but when the boy is teased at school about it, he demands to know the truth, forcing Wei to admit his role in Sheng's arrest and creating a rift in the fragile family. Wracked with guilt, Wei goes in search of his son, hoping to put his family's life back together. Tsukiyama (Women of the Silk) adopts the contemporary template of multiple perspective narration to explore the relationships of a close family in a closed society. Though complex human beings fail to emerge from the facade of stock voices, the tenderness the author shows for her characters creates a sympathetic portrait of intellectuals trying to live honestly in the shadow of oppression.