Summary and book reviews of Under Fishbone Clouds by Sam Meekings

Under Fishbone Clouds

A Novel

By Sam Meekings

Under Fishbone Clouds
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  • Hardcover: Dec 2010,
    416 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Elena Spagnolie

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Book Summary

Under Fishbone Clouds is a universal love story, a family saga, and a journey through Chinese history, myth, and culture.  Following a young Chinese couple as their love grows, and is tested, during Mao's Cultural Revolution, this elegant debut novel provides a rare and personal glimpse into the birth modern China.

When the Kitchen God is challenged by the Jade Emperor to fathom the workings of the human heart, he chooses to follow the life of Jinyi and his wife Yuying, from their blossoming love until their old age, in hope of finding an answer. The Kitchen God watches as the new government strictures split their family in two, living inside their hearts as they they endure the loss of two children, homesickness, and isolation, all while keeping alive a love that survives famine, forced labor, and even death. Weaving together the story of their life with China’s recent political history, as well as traditional folktales and myths, the Kitchen God illuminates the most impenetrable aspects the human condition.

1
1946
The Year of the Dog

Beginnings are always difficult, especially when you have lived as long as I have. I could start by telling you that this is a simple story about two hearts and the way they are intertwined. But that won’t do. The Jade Emperor would not like that at all. I think I will have to go a little further back.

In a small border town huddled at the furthest reaches of a northern province, there was an old teahouse. It was winter there, thousands of years ago. And inside was the owner, his face flushed despite the frost that had turned his windows into rivers of curdled milk. He bolted the door at the end of the night and ran a wet rag through his hands. As he moved, sweat slipped between the folds of his shirt. He had been pacing between the tables since morning. Lukewarm tea sat in a squat clay cup on one of the dark wooden tables, the leaves sunk to the bottom like broken lilies given up on light.

The teahouse was situated at the end of a ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Under Fishbone Clouds is at once an examination of the nature of love and the human heart, a survey of 20th century Chinese history, an introduction to Chinese mythology and philosophy, and a poetic work of contemporary fiction. It is one of the best books I've read in a while, and will surely only get better upon a second reading. I highly recommend it!   (Reviewed by Elena Spagnolie).

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Media Reviews
New York Times Book Review

Meekings's accomplished first novel is based on the lives of his Chinese wife's grandparents. An unlikely love story set against the events of the last half-century in China, it's a tale of terrible suffering that also manages to be a poetic evocation of the country and its people…His exuberance and verve win out. He imbues Under Fishbone Clouds with a magical atmosphere.

Kirkus Reviews

An affecting, useful revisiting of not-so-distant events, capably handled by a skillful, empathetic storyteller.

Library Journal

This is a big novel that initially requires some patience with the interwoven chapters of plot and folklore, but in the end the reward is gratifying. It may appeal to Amy Tan fans, although the author’s style is more similar to Bette Bao Lord.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This is a beautifully told love story as well as an absorbing study in Chinese folklore and history.

The Independent (UK)

Lavishly imagined and skillfully narrated.

Scotland Herald

Hails the arrival of an intriguing new talent.

Scotland on Sunday

Nuanced, alert and intelligent.

Waterstones Book Quarterly

Beautifully written, it is an enthralling debut.

The Lady

This intricate tale of love, folklore and one of the most turbulent and terrible times in modern history is as beautifully woven as a silk tapestry.

Author Blurb Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club
A powerful and mesmerizing novel, both mythic and intimate. Sam Meekings has a maturity of insight and theme not commonly found in a young writer. This is a masterful accomplishment of imagination, insight, and lyricism.

Author Blurb Alexander McCall Smith, author of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series
One of the great delights in life is the discovery of a new novelist of obvious talent. Sam Meekings’ debut novel, Under Fishbone Clouds is one such discovery – utterly beautiful and memorable…

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Beyond the Book

The Kitchen God
The playful yet poignant narrator of Sam Meekings's Under Fishbone Clouds introduces himself as Zao Jun, a being who, before becoming the Kitchen God, was a mortal human. There are many versions of his story spread throughout different regions of China, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia, coming from both Taoist and Buddhist traditions, though mythologists date the most popular version back to the Han Dynasty in the 2nd Century BC.

The Kitchen God & His Wife

Though pointedly different than Meekings's version, it is traditionally said that Zhang Lang (as he was known during his time on earth) married an honorable woman, Guo Ding Xiang, but left her for a younger, prettier woman—an act for which he was ...

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