Rated of 5
by Audrey C. (Canfield, OH)
The Scavenger's Daughters
Bratt cleverly titled novel fills the reader with images of refuse, dirt, and stench. How could any reader be lured into choosing this book which seemingly promises pages of depressive, downtrodden characters ambling from one overwhelming hopelessness to another? But, a closer examination of the word scavenger provides the reader with an aura of saving something destined to be trash and transforming it into a valuable object. And, because I was "word enticed," I was richly rewarded by this read!
A short prologue (1967) portrays a teenage Benfu languishing in prison in the most deplorable of conditions. The time is set in the aftermath of Maoist China filled with inexplicable inhumanity. Benfu is given his chance of escape by another young man he doesn't even know. He runs and runs to freedom and collapses only to awaken to a beautiful girl later introduced as Calli who hovers above him and becomes a lifetime companion some time later.
Fast forward to 2010 in Wuxi, China where the reader is introduced to 60 year old Benfu who is on his daily scavenger hunt to collect rubbish to be sorted and recycled so he can use monies to provide for his ever growing family of abandoned girls. Once again he comes upon a cardboard box with another almost dead little girl. He rushes home with this newest addition to his household where "twenty-three flowers have been saved from death throughout the years.
The story proceeds as each day's expedition becomes more and more difficult because of his declining health. As the pages go on, the reader is introduced to the eldest daughter, Linnea, who lives at home and realizes that it now is her responsibility to provide for that which Benfu can no longer manage. Linnea and her boyfriend, a member of a family of the now governing class, fulfill for the family not only food but little treats of tradition to make life more bearable. When Benfu discovers Jet's background, he emphatically forbids his daughter to continue her growing friendship and fondness with the young man. The reader is griped by the struggles of the heart and the absolute obedience required in the Chinese family. Bratt gives no clues about the outcome of the novel, but the reader is richly rewarded by the heart rendering actions. Benfu struggles more and more with his seemingly fatal health issues and silently prays each day for just one more day and "one more butterfly kiss from each of his daughters." The reader can only hope that it will be!