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02 February, 2015

Book Review: Flowers for Mei-Ling by Lorraine Lachs

The copy of Flowers for Mei-Ling was an advanced readers copy passed to me by a relative who thought that I would enjoy it because of my interest in historical fiction. It has been buried underneath other books on my to be read pile for more years than I want to admit. I have made a goal for this year to try and get the books from 2013 and earlier read and either shelved with my PC, or passed on through a local Little Free Library or the take one/leave one book exchange at a local coffee shop. This is my first of the 50 book goal I have set for myself to be read in 2015.

Mei-Ling, has had a very turbulent life. Born to a Chinese father, and an English mother who met in England, then went to China to help with the Communist revolution led by chairman Mao. During the Red Army movement in the 1960's, teenage  Mei-Ling watches her father  get taken and beaten for being an intellectual, is separated from her mother as both are sent to the country to learn from the peasants. Mei-Ling survives a rape, while her mother survives a serious injury to her leg. They both manage to find their way back to their home and each other and escape to Hong Kong. There she and her mother are befriended by a Dutch businessman. He gives her mother a job, and both of them a place to live.

In Hong Kong, her life changes. Mei-Ling is a Chinese girl in an English ruled country. She is enrolled in school to finish her education which was halted when she joined the Red Army movement. She also becomes the lover of the Dutch benefactor who has helped her and her mother survive as refugees in Hong Kong. Upon becoming pregnant Mei-Ling and her mother find their lives moved to Amsterdam. Mei-Ling is married to a reluctant and much older man. When she has a daughter rather than a son, she becomes less desirable to him as a companion. Her husband starts an escort business and makes Mei-Ling his partner and sometimes host for wealthy businessmen visiting Amsterdam.

When her husband dies, followed quickly by her mother's death Mei-Ling finds her life changing again. She sells her dead husband's business and she her daughter immigrate to Canada. There in her early thirties, she becomes a student and meets and marries professor Jack Levy. She makes a life with Jack, earns a degree in art history opens a gallery and then separates from Jack after he is unable to accept the choices made that formed her past. Her daughter Julia graduates from Harvard University and moves to Hong Kong to work. Mei-Ling  and Jack travel to Hong Kong together in 1997 to visit when China takes over Hong Kong from the British. While there Mei-Ling is forced to face the demons of her past.

Flowers for Mei-ling is superbly written. It follows Mei-Lings life through fifty years. We see her and the events that take place in her life through her eyes, and the eyes of three different men who loved her as well as through her mother's eyes.  The author weaves together the chaotic events of the communist movement in China, with the anti-war movement in America and the riots in Chicago during the 1969 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Mei-Ling changes from a naive and passionate teenager, to a young mother trapped in a loveless marriage, to a wealthy business woman.

This is a book that has been sitting on my to be read pile for years and one that I finished and though "Why didn't I read this earlier?"

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