Readers of Women of the Silk never forgot the moving, powerful story of Pei, brought to work in the silk house as a girl, grown into a quiet but determined young woman whose life is subject to cruel twists of fate, including the loss of her closest friend, Lin. Now we finally learn what happened to Pei, as she leaves the silk house for Hong Kong in the 1930s, arriving with a young orphan, Ji Shen, in her care. Her first job, in the home of a wealthy family, ends in disgrace, but soon Pei and Ji Shen find a new life in the home of Mrs. Finch, a British ex-patriate who welcomes them as the daughters she never had. Their idyllic life is interrupted, however, by war, and the Japanese occupation. Pei is once again forced to make her own way, struggling to survive and to keep her extended family alive as well. In this story of hardship and survival, Tsukiyama paints a portrait of women fighting the forces of war and time to make a life for themselves.
The unique bond forged between Chinese women who were abandoned by their families and forced into the silk industry at a young age is beautifully explored in Tsukiyama's (Night of Many Dreams) precisely crafted novel. During the Japanese invasion of Canton in 1938, Pei, a shy 27-year-old whose quiet strength marks her as a survivor, flees the silk factory where she has lived and worked since she was eight years old. She takes with her Ji Shen, an adolescent orphaned when the Japanese took Nanking, whom Pei has pledged to raise. Arriving in Hong Kong, Pei relies on her ties with the silk sisterhood to find housing and a place to work, and also to learn the rules and customs which she must adopt in this new environment. In spare, evocative prose, Tsukiyama paints contrasting pictures of the bustling wealth of Hong Kong and its massive poverty. First assigned to a wealthy Chinese household where she is embroiled in servants' quarrels, Pei finally finds unexpected peace working for "a white devil," a widowed Englishwoman who comes to treat Pei like a daughter. Flashbacks to Pei's early life in the silk factory punctuate the narrative, which skillfully traces 35 years--through the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong and its aftermath up until 1973--in Pei's nimbly stalwart existence. Women provide for each other in myriad ways in this world, and the relationships forged between them glow at the heart of Tsukiyama's story. Sisters are reunited, mothers and adopted daughters remain steadfastly loyal, childbirth breeds grief, but affirmation, too, and great friends even return from the dead to console their loved ones in this quiet but powerful effort from a writer who proves once again that she is an unusually gifted storyteller.