Author: Susan Barker
Rating: 3 Stars
Review By: Shana
This is a hard review to write. The author is a master of evoking emotion and painting scenes, she uses words intricately without feeling pretentious or forced. But the subject matter is depressing, grim, and violent, and the book is peppered with sexual encounters that leave you feeling invaded and vulnerable.
I know that historically life was far more violent and sex was often linked to such violence, and that in many historical periods women were possessions. As such, I realize that this depiction is likely accurate, and so I can't say the author is gratuitous or needlessly puerile. I likewise understand that sex and power transactions are key to many historical periods. But still, I came to dread the next unequal or hostile sexual encounter.
Beyond the sexual content, there is so little tenderness and love, and no happy endings (or even happy interludes that last very long) to speak of. I finished the book having gotten engaging (if disturbing) snapshots of Chinese history, a psychological examination of how two people who care for each other can repeatedly harm the other, and a lot of food for thought. But unless you have a strong stomach and are content to leave the book feeling weathered and bullied and even less optimistic about the nature of humanity, I cannot wholeheartedly recommend it.