The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Exquisite. A haunting tale of sorrow, ghosts, ancient customs and dealing with death. I'm partial to tales of Communist China and had high hopes for this book regarding an ancient custom of burying a female corpse with an unwed son who has died so he won't be alone in the after-world. This custom is still practised and, unfortunately, when a corpse can't be found it is easier to make one. In reality this is a modern day fairy tale, a romance with a bittersweet ending. One that shows the plight of women in communist countries and what happens to religion when Communism suppresses its open practice. The two families here are contrasts of one another. The town family with two sons who broke the one-child law, and yet still favour the first-born according tradition, even to the point of wishing the second son had died instead of the first. Then there is the girl's rural farming family who has the only child, merely a girl, and a troublesome one at that. Here is a family, as farmers, who could have done well with having several children, but they follow the law (as the penalties would have been exorbitant fees). This family is much more modern though, and when a rich man offers to marry the girl in payment of their debts, she runs off. As they (son & daughter) meet each other their points of view and way of life clash against each other as they journey through a tale of ancient China which is taking place today in modern Communist China. Haunting and memorable with absolutely gorgeous watercolour artwork!
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