Title: Secret of a Thousand Beauties
Author: Mingmei Yip
Length: 320 pages
Release Date: November 25, 2014
Rating: 5 Stars
Set against the vibrant and intrigue-laden backdrop of 1930s China, Mingmei Yip's enthralling novel explores one woman's defiant pursuit of independence.
Spring Swallow was promised in marriage while still in her mother's belly. When the groom dies before a wedding can take place, seventeen-year-old Spring Swallow is ordered to become a ghost bride to appease his spirit. Under her in-laws' protection, she will be little more than a servant, unable to know real love or bear children. Refusing to accept her fate as a "bad-luck woman," Spring Swallow flees on her wedding day.
In the city of Soochow, Spring Swallow joins a community of renowned embroiderers. The women work for Aunty Peony, whose exquisite stitching once earned her the Emperor's love. But when Aunty Peony agrees to replicate a famous painting--a lucrative assignment that will take a year to complete--betrayal and jealousy emerges within the group. Spring Swallow becomes entangled in each woman's story of heartbreak, even while she embarks on a dangerous affair with a young revolutionary. On a journey that leads from the remote hillsides around Soochow to cosmopolitan Peking, Spring Swallow draws on the secret techniques learned from Aunty Peony and her own indomitable strength, determined to forge a life that is truly her own. -Goodreads
The Secret of a Thousand Beauties is one of those reads that you just have to experience. Meaning that if you try going into the read with preconceived notions, hopes, and/or plans for the characters' lives,
you will spend a great deal of your reading time very angry.
The story found here, as with most stories involving Asian women of it's period, is one of seeming unending struggle, loss, grief, and suffering. Often centering around the pursuit of, loss of, search for, love of, (and in one case) the murder of a man.
For young Spring Sparrow...her troubles all began when she was given in marriage to 'a ghost'. Meaning that even though the young man that she was betrothed to was dead. She was still expected to marry him as though he was alive, and live out her days taking care of his mother.
Seeing this as the trap that it was, our young heroine flees to a neighboring town on the day of her wedding, and has the luck of running into Purple.
Purple is one of a band of embroiderers, renown for their exquisite craftsmanship. Headed by the secretive and coolly aloof Aunty Peony.
Spring Sparrow couldn't be more pleased when Aunty Peony agrees to take her on as an apprentice.
What Spring Sparrow has no way of knowing is that becoming Aunty's protegee, makes the naive teen privy to some pretty explosive secrets.
As the story progresses, and many of the secrets of the house and its inhabitants come to light; there is a quite dramatic and consistent down turn in everyone's fortunes, accompanied by the customary parting of the ways.
Spring Sparrow and the youngest charge of the house Little Doll, leave only after they have been deserted by everyone else, Sparrow has gotten married and impregnated by a revolutionary on top of
Hold on tight, because this is where the slippery slope from bad to worse gets a bit steep for Spring Sparrow and the gang in the life department.
Needless to say, this is a very vivid and most of time heart wrenching story. There are however, a few bright spots, that make all the Kleenex-worthy moments worth it.
The inclusion of the art of embroidery and all of its nuance and lore, elevated the experience into one graced by metaphor and life lessons similar to those found in proverbs.
What this book does like few others, is to extol the virtues of perseverance,hard work, patience, love, and intelligence,strength, and the preservation and creation of beauty as exemplified by women of the Chinese culture.