Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Book review: "Chopsticks" by Xinran

Book Review: Miss Chopsticks, by Xinran, Chatto & Windus, 2007, 257 pages

So what’s the difference between a Little Penguin in Tasmania, and a village girl in China? By the end of this remarkable book, you will no doubt understand the question, and agree with the author’s conclusion.

Xinran is a former radio journalist from Nanjing whose program pioneered the exploration of social problems confronting women in contemporary China, and whose major work to now has been Good Women of China which grew out of that radio program. (She has also written Sky Burial and What the Chinese Don’t Eat.)

Her new book is a further exploration of issues facing women - in this case, those young women who migrate to big cities from the poor villages of China’s vast countryside in search of work.

Her protagonists are three sisters who end up working, respectively, in a restaurant, a tea-house and a water-healing bath house. They are the “chopsticks” (daughters), useless little bits of wood that are unable to play the role of “roof beams” (sons) in supporting the family home. “It was all too easy for these girls to be utterly crushed by men and to feel that they were worthless” (p. 63).

The book explores the great gap between the backwardness of village life and the different values and pace of city life. Befriending one of the girls, the wife of the tea-house owner advises: “It’ll take a while, but you’ll come to understand why there are such huge differences between the city and the countryside. In many ways, people in the countryside are living in a different century from those in the city, and it will take them many years to catch up.” It is advice that Xinran may have intended for her readers, too.

The charm of this novel is that it is not a misery-tale, but a story drawn from real life that shows how kindness and generosity are still factors in the Chinese people’s make-up.

When you finish reading the book, Xinran invites you to the website of her charity for Chinese children, the “The Mothers’ Bridge of Love”. I’d also suggest you check out the work of Adelaide woman Josephine Charles, working with the minority Yi girls of Sichuan Province’s Liangshan Mountains.
Her website is:

You can read more about Xinran here.

1 comment:

Asianideas said...

This new book is a further exploration of issues on women. In this book, those young women who migrate to big cities from the rural places of China's vast countryside in search of work.