Secret of a Thousand Beauties by Mingmei Yip
China in the 1930's. Spring Swallow, fated to be a 'bad luck' woman, is clear sighted and determined.
Promised in marriage whilst in the womb she is later married to the ghost of her groom, or a chicken depending on your point of view. As a young girl Spring Swallow escapes her life of predetermined drudgery on her ghostly wedding day and flees to the city of Soochow.
She finds herself by chance rather than plan being trained in embroidery by Aunt Peony, a woman with dark secrets and passionate jealousies. As Spring Swallow's talent for embroidery grows more of the secrets of Aunt Peony are revealed, as are the personalities of the other 'sister' embroiderers.
(I was fascinated by the treatise on the art and technique of embroidering that Mingmei Yip exposes us to throughout the book. The book deserves further reading to dip more solidly into the artistic way of this medium.)
I really liked Spring Swallow's internal discourse throughout the novel. Indeed, life from her point of view is anything but dull, frequently terrifying, with humorous and tender moments. She is a young woman at once naive and knowing. Her loyalty to her teacher and her other 'sisters', her pursuit of their whereabouts and her taking responsibility for her 'family' is admirable.
The development of her relationship with the revolutionary Shen Feng is both unexplainable and yet completely realistic. Here is a young woman who has never known love, who believes in fate and who romantically finds her soulmate on a mountain top. Complete with poetry. No wonder she falls in love with him.
Spring Swallow's journey into womanhood and who she is does not stop with finding love. The truth of life is harsher. Her path is at times harrowing. From Soochow to Peking, from resolute safety to chancy freedom, Spring Swallow fully embraces life. By grasping opportunities, and not despairing she finds herself coming of age in unexpected ways.
A quietly fascinating read!
A NetGalley ARC