A Hundred Flowers: Book summary and reviews of A Hundred Flowers by Gail Tsukiyama

A Hundred Flowers

A Novel

By Gail Tsukiyama

A Hundred Flowers
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  • Published in USA  Aug 2013,
    304 pages.

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Book Summary

A powerful novel about an ordinary family facing extraordinary times at the start of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

China, 1957. Chairman Mao has declared a new openness in society: "Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend." Many intellectuals fear it is only a trick, and Kai Ying's husband, Sheng, a teacher, has promised not to jeopardize their safety or that of their young son, Tao. But one July morning, just before his sixth birthday, Tao watches helplessly as Sheng is dragged away for writing a letter criticizing the Communist Party and sent to a labor camp for "reeducation."

A year later, still missing his father desperately, Tao climbs to the top of the hundred-year-old kapok tree in front of their home, wanting to see the mountain peaks in the distance. But Tao slips and tumbles thirty feet to the courtyard below, badly breaking his leg.

As Kai Ying struggles to hold her small family together in the face of this shattering reminder of her husband's absence, other members of the household must face their own guilty secrets and strive to find peace in a world where the old sense of order is falling. Once again, Tsukiyama brings us a powerfully moving story of ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances with grace and courage.

Published in paperback August 2013. First published in hardcover Aug 2012.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"A gripping tale of a father torn from his family for speaking out against Chairman Mao's Communist Party." - O, the Oprah Magazine

"I was following this family almost as though it were my own and stayed all the way to the end of their story." - All Things Considered, NPR

"Bestselling author Gail Tsukiyama takes us back to those times not by painting a panorama but in her thoughtful and forthright way by showing the consequences for one family." - Library Journal

"Tsukiyama's close attention to detail and descriptive language paint a vivid picture of the daily life of Kai Ying and her family. Tsukiyama gently envelops the reader into the quiet sadness that permeates the entire household while weaving in the multiple hardships the family faces under communism. Strength of community; support and love of family, both natural and adopted; and the ability to heal and overcome loss are major themes within the moving novel." - Booklist

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Reader Reviews

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Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Louise J
Powerfully Written!
Gail Tsukiyama has done it once again. This was a powerfully written story. I’ve read every novel she has written and have never been disappointed and this one was no different. I seriously hope there will be a sequel to this story so we can find out conclusively what happens to all the characters in the novel. I would highly recommend this book to anyone. Thank you Ms. Tsukiyama for another most enjoyable read!!

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Judith S. (Santa Clarita, California)
Resilience and stubbornness to survive
“She marveled at nature's resiliency, its sheer stubbornness to survive.”

Those are the thoughts of Auntie Song, one of the characters in Gail Tsukiyama’s newest book. It is the story of an extended family told from five different perspectives through a year of many changes. Some of the challenges they face are common to many lives; a child’s accident, grief at the death of a spouse, the birth of a child. Other concerns are unique to the cataclysmic social changes of Mao Tse-Tung’s regime.

The family consists of Kai Ying, the mother of Tao, her elderly father-in law, Wei, and Auntie Song, a courtesy aunt who occupies a portion of their family home. As the year progresses a pregnant , homeless teenager joins the family. Much of the family’s unique distress is due to its absent member. Sheng, the husband, the father, the beloved son, has been arrested and sent to a distant reeducation camp.

I liked all of these characters. They are very human in their strengths and weaknesses. Kai Ying has admirable sensitivity to her patients as she prepares her herbal remedies and Auntie Song’s optimism and strong survival instincts are inspiring. The book is somewhat slow and occasionally disjointed as the storytelling shifts from one person to another, but the overall picture of this family was very satisfying. They have nature’s resiliency and a sheer stubbornness to survive.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Amy L. (Tucson, AZ)
Another Gentle Winner
Gail Tsukiyama is an author I greatly admired. Her "Samurai's Garden" is one of my favorite books, for its exquisite prose, dignity, nobility and simplicity. "A Hundred Flowers" is marked by the same simplicity, nobility and dignity. Set during Mao's cultural revolution, it shows us the impact of the revolution from the multiple viewpoints of family members. Each narrator (boy, mother, grandfather and aunt/family friend) provides a unique view of the same events while revealing deeply personal information. It is a moving affirmation of life during a difficult period in Chinese history.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Patricia K. (Oak Park, California)
A Hundred Flowers
A Hundred Flowers is a gentle story of a Chinese family in the early years of China under Chairman Mao. When Kai Yang's husband Sheng is shipped off to a labor camp, the family could fall apart, but instead, they quietly learn to support each other with quiet dignity.

I liked the book, especially watching how each member of the family was affected and how each, on their own terms, looked inward and grew stronger before they could come back together as a family.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Teresa M. (Naples, FL)
A Hundred Flowers
I've read two of the author's previous books and especially loved The Samurai's Garden. Tsukiyama is a gifted writer who creates wonderful characters reader's grow to love. I also enjoy learning something new, and in this book, we learn about Mao's "Hundred Flowers Campaign" started in the 1950"s, and used to flush out dissidents and subsequently imprison them.

The story centers around a family torn apart by Mao's campaign, and one of the character's quotes nicely sums up the book, "Sometimes the best lessons are in the journey, regardless of the outcome."

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Margaret O. (Bonita Springs, FL)
A Hundred Flowers
This is the first book by GAIL TSUKIYMA that I have read and I look forward to reading more. This story is set in Mao’s communist China in the once prosperous small town of Dongshan.. Life was getting harder all the time for Wei’s family but they were managing under the new rule of the land that began by Mao ten years earlier until one letter changed everything overnight. As Wei’s only son Sheng, a high school history teacher, is sent to a “reeducation” camp we get to know each of the family members over the next year as they lose contact with Sheng and deal with this blow to their everyday lives. Each of the characters shares his thoughts and feelings in their own voice. This writing style allows one to identify with the characters (especially Sheng’s wife and 6 year-old son) as the setting and political situation is described through their eyes. I found the introduction of two additional characters (Suyin and Tian) very thought provoking as it illustrates the idea that people come into our lives for a reason if we are only open to them.
The author does not give us a neat, happy ending but rather tells it like it is with the emphasis on the importance of family relationships and hope to help us accept difficult situations and go forward.

...22 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Gail Tsukiyama Author Biography

Photo: Kevin Horan

Born to a Chinese mother and a Japanese father in San Francisco, Gail Tsukiyama now lives in El Cerrito, California. She is the bestselling author of seven novels, including The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, Women of the Silk, The Samurai’s Garden and A Hundred Flowers, as well as the recipient of the Academy of American Poets Award and the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award. She lives in El Cerrito, California.

Link to Gail Tsukiyama's Website

Name Pronunciation
Gail Tsukiyama: Tsu-kee-yah-mah

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