A true story of love, betrayal, and healing, The Girl from Purple Mountain begins with a mystery: The Chai family matriarch, Ruth Mei-en Tsao Chai, dies unexpectedly and her grieving husband discovers that she had secretly arranged to be buried alone-rather than in the shared plots they had purchased together years ago. In this extraordinary and moving family epic set against the shifting tides of twentieth-century China, Ruth's first-born son, Winberg, and his daughter, May-lee, explore family history to reconstruct her life as they seek to understand her fateful decision.
Winberg Chai (Chinese Mainland & Taiwan) opens this engaging family saga with a mystery: at his mother's death, it was revealed that she had secretly arranged to be buried in "a spot where she would be encircled by strangers, where my father could not be buried beside her." The story of his quest to uncover her motivations is a breathtaking epic encompassing not only family dramas but also the Chinese civil war, the Japanese attack on Nanjing and the difficulties of immigration and return. The accomplishments of the book's main subject "Ruth" Tsao Chai are impressive; one of the first women to attend a Chinese university, she worked during World War II as an interpreter for Lady Mountbatten. The story of "Ruth" is told in alternating sections by Winberg, a political science professor who has written more than 20 books on China, and by his novelist daughter, May-lee (My Lucky Face). May-lee often provides background information that puts Winberg's personal reflections into historical context. In the sections detailing the family's flight from Nanjing, for instance, we learn from May-lee about the Japanese approach on the city, followed by Winberg's vivid recollections of his childish confusion during the evacuation preparations. Though the alternating narrative voices can distance the reader, overall, this is a gripping and historically grounded read.