Reviews of Four Treasures of the Sky by Jenny Zhang

Four Treasures of the Sky

A Novel

by Jenny Tinghui Zhang

Four Treasures of the Sky by Jenny Tinghui Zhang X
Four Treasures of the Sky by Jenny Tinghui Zhang
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Apr 2022, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Maria Katsulos
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About this Book

Book Summary

A propulsive and dazzling debut novel set against the backdrop of the Chinese Exclusion Act, about a Chinese girl fighting to claim her place in the 1880s American West.

Daiyu never wanted to be like the tragic heroine for whom she was named, revered for her beauty and cursed with heartbreak. But when she is kidnapped and smuggled across an ocean from China to America, Daiyu must relinquish the home and future she imagined for herself. Over the years that follow, she is forced to keep reinventing herself to survive. From a calligraphy school, to a San Francisco brothel, to a shop tucked into the Idaho mountains, we follow Daiyu on a desperate quest to outrun the tragedy that chases her. As anti-Chinese sentiment sweeps across the country in a wave of unimaginable violence, Daiyu must draw on each of the selves she has been―including the ones she most wants to leave behind―in order to finally claim her own name and story.

At once a literary tour de force and a groundbreaking work of historical fiction, Four Treasures of the Sky announces Jenny Tinghui Zhang as an indelible new voice. Steeped in untold history and Chinese folklore, this novel is a spellbinding feat.

1

When I am kidnapped, it does not happen in an alleyway. It does not happen in the middle of the night. It does not happen when I am alone.

When I am kidnapped, I am thirteen and standing in the middle of the Zhifu fish market on Beach Road, watching a fleshy woman assemble whitefish the shape of spades into a pile. The woman squats, her knees in her armpits, rearranging the fish so the best ones rise to the top. Around us, a dozen fishmongers do the same, their own piles of fish suspended in nets, squirming. Below the nets are pails to catch the water sliding off fish bodies. The ground is glossy with water from the ones that are not yet dead. When they flail in the air, they gleam like silver firecrackers.

The whole place smells wet and raw.

Someone yells about red snapper. Fresh, they say. Straight from the Gulf of Pechili. Another voice tumbles over that one, louder, brighter. Real shark fin! Boost sexual potency, make skin better, increase energy for your little emperor!

...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Zhang depicts Daiyu's time in a San Francisco brothel delicately but forcefully — exactly as Daiyu wields her calligraphy brush. The stories of the young women among whom she lives and works are heartbreaking, and Zhang delivers feelings of real tension and urgency as Daiyu plans her escape. Despite hardship unimaginable to many, the times when Daiyu finds genuine joy in Four Treasures of the Sky filled me with happiness. Her love of storytelling may be the best example of this joy, discovered even in a life marked by tragedy. A deep love of and respect for words is something Zhang shares with her heroine: They are both incredibly gifted wordsmiths who use their multilingualism to craft stories unconstrained by just one language...continued

Full Review (650 words).

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(Reviewed by Maria Katsulos).

Media Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
Engrossing…Epic…Zhang's descriptive prose is an arresting combination of earthy and lyric...The resonance and immediacy of these barbarous 19th-century events are testament to Zhang's storytelling powers, and should stand as a warning to all of us.

Washington Post
Zhang's transporting story of perseverance in the face of shocking injustice resonates across cultures, and also feels sadly relevant to today's world.

Booklist (starred review)
Zhang's debut novel imaginatively illuminates an often overlooked aspect of American history that resonates powerfully today, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and concurrent anti-Asian violence… Zhang's blend of history and magical realism will appeal to fans of Ta-Nehisi Coates' The Water Dancer as well as Amy Tan's The Valley of Amazement.

Library Journal (starred review)
Extraordinary…Those who want to learn about a little-known incident in Chinese-American history will be enlightened by this moving debut.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Zhang delves into the history of violence and prejudice against Chinese people in the U.S. with her debut, a lyrical and sweeping Bildungsroman...The author skillfully delineates the many characters and offers fascinating details on Chinese calligraphy and literature, along with an unsparing view of white supremacy. The result is fierce and moving.

Kirkus Reviews
There's nothing wrong with darkness—this novel could have used more—but its mix of tones feels out of whack. A well-intentioned but frustrating debut that never comes together.

Author Blurb Ann Patchett, author of The Dutch House
Jenny Tinghui Zhang uses her considerable talents to illuminate the shocking injustices the Chinese in this country suffered in the 1800s, and in doing so, makes us stop and consider how much of that cruelty and injustice survive to this day. Four Treasures of the Sky is an engulfing, bighearted, and heartbreaking novel.

Author Blurb Anna North, author of Outlawed
Brilliant and devastating, Four Treasures of the Sky tells the story of Daiyu, who is brought to America against her will and forced to hide who she is even as she grows into her true self. Weaving together myth and history, Zhang's work is both timeless and utterly necessary right now.

Author Blurb C Pam Zhang, author of How Much of These Hills Is Gold
In a sweeping adventure that spans China and the American West, Jenny Tinghui Zhang has crafted a thoughtful story of identity, love, and belonging.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Four Treasures of Chinese Calligraphy

Chinese calligrapher Sun Xinde creating calligraphy on paper with an ink brush In Four Treasures of the Sky, heroine Daiyu arrives at Master Wang's calligraphy school as an orphan looking for work. She quickly becomes his best student as she learns about the titular four treasures: brush, ink, paper and ink stone. Since the time of the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420–589 CE), these items have been acknowledged in Chinese calligraphy as the "four treasures of the study." Broadly speaking, calligraphy is defined as an artistic and decorative form of handwriting. Though it would take volumes and volumes of text to trace the entire history of calligraphy in China, we can explore its general progression, and take a closer look at each of the treasures of the study.

The Chinese written language began to ...

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