This week I read Mingmei Yip’s beautiful novel, Petals from the Sky (Kensington Books, 2010). I felt drawn to her book before I even opened it. She’d taught at my graduate school alma mater, The Chinese University of Hong, and now lives in New York, my favorite city in the US.
But to be honest, I wasn’t sure I’d get into it easily. Set in Hong Kong, Paris, China, and New York, what’s not to like, right? The story centers around a young Cantonese woman who becomes torn between a quiet life as a Buddhist nun or the wife of a gweilo doctor from New York. The Buddhist nun thing seemed a bit heavy for these sultry summer days.
Soon after I started the book, I realized Mingmei Yip dished up exactly what I was looking for: a fun, thrilling novel. Her writing is flowery and poetic and rich with humor. And in the end, I loved the Buddhist part of the story the best.
My favorite character was the protagonist’s mother: a glass-is-half-empty matron who always came up on the losing end of love. She fears the same for her daughter, yet warns her against joining the order of nuns. Meng Ning, the protagonist, is down to earth, intelligent (Sorbonne PhD), and innocent. I wasn’t too keen on her boyfriend Michael, though. For a macho neurosurgeon, he seemed way too needy and possessive. Throughout much of the book, Yip foreshadowed his anger as if it would later become a deal breaker. But Meng Ning doesn’t seem to take offense, even when he yells at her and acts like a baby.
All in all, though, the book is a fun read and one that I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys cross-cultural romantic stories, learning about Buddhism (but not in a dry or academic way), and a plot that causes you to think about what’s important in our short lives.