From the author of Three Souls comes a vividly imagined and haunting new novel set in early 20th century Shanghai—a story of friendship, heartbreak, and history that follows a young Eurasian orphan’s search for her long-lost mother.
That night I dreamed that I had wandered out to Dragon Springs Road all on my own, when a dreadful knowledge seized me that my mother had gone away never to return . . .
In 1908, Jialing is only seven years old when she is abandoned in the courtyard of a once-lavish estate near Shanghai. Jialing is zazhong—Eurasian—and faces a lifetime of contempt from both Chinese and Europeans. Without her mother’s protection, she can survive only if the estate’s new owners, the Yang family, agree to take her in.
Jialing finds allies in Anjuin, the eldest Yang daughter, and Fox, an animal spirit who has lived in the haunted courtyard for centuries. But Jialing’s life as the Yangs’ bondservant changes unexpectedly when she befriends a young English girl who then mysteriously vanishes.
Always hopeful of finding her long-lost mother, Jialing grows into womanhood during the tumultuous early years of the Chinese republic, guided by Fox and by her own strength of spirit, away from the shadows of her past. But she finds herself drawn into a murder at the periphery of political intrigue, a relationship that jeopardizes her friendship with Anjuin and a forbidden affair that brings danger to the man she loves.
I quickly fell in love with Dragon Springs Road. The character of Jialing is adorable at the beginning, and watching her grow into a strong woman willing to push the boundaries of what society allows her do was incredible. As a Eurasian, Jialing doesn't fit within any society and both look down on her as something less.At first she accepts this role in her life, but after making friends with the daughter of the Chinese family she lives with and attending a mission school, her views begin to change. She doesn't understand why she is worth less than Chinese or European women, why she can't do anything they do.
Pushing her, and helping her behind the scenes is Fox, an ancient Chinese animal spirit that befriends her after her mother abandons her. Fox nudges the people in her life in directions to help Jialing along the road she needs to follow. Fox was a very interesting character. At first she seemed very frivolous and selfish, but as I got to know her better I discovered how selfless and giving she was. In the end, I think she was one of my favorite characters of all.
Jialing has to navigate a very difficult Chinese world. There is murder, coups, wars, and so much political drama. And each one threatens in some way to tear apart the little world she's made for herself. Dragon Springs Road was a fascinating tale, and I think I'll have to explore more from Janie Chang soon.
**I voluntarily read a review copy of this book**