In the early 1960s, a woman named Yan has a chance to follow her husband Yiwen to Hong Kong from northern China. The catch is that she can only take two of her three children to Hong Kong. Yan decides to leave her oldest daughter, Peiyin, with the intention of coming back in a year or two to bring her to Hong Kong, too.
Sadly, history would have other ideas. The Cultural Revolution soon started and China was virtually cut off from the rest of the world.
Yan has other chances to bring Peiyin to Hong Kong in later years, but for one reason or another doesn’t follow through. The Zhangs (with the exception of Peiyin, of course) move from Hong Kong to Tokyo. Peiyin’s sister Meiyin (now called Vivian) and brother Dawei reap all the benefits of a privileged education.
In the early 90s, Peiyin is a divorced mother of two, yet is desperate to join her parents and siblings in Japan to earn money for her two young sons, even though it entails leaving them behind in China.
The culture shock Peiyin experiences, not only in Japan, but also in her own family, is telling of a new generation of mainland Chinese who moved abroad in the 1990s.
Karen Ma keeps the reader engaged throughout the book. The story also shows how families were torn apart from the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, even years and decades later.
I’ve only been to Tokyo once, and that was just a year before Peiyin moves there in the story. So I could picture the city Peiyin saw upon her arrival. I also knew mainland Chinese who moved to Japan around that time and the struggles they endured.
This is a perfect book both for Old China Hands and for those who haven’t read much about China.