With every misfortune there is a blessing and within every blessing, the seeds of misfortune, and so it goes, until the end of time.
It is 1938 in China, and the Japanese are advancing. A young mother, Meilin, is forced to flee her burning city with her four-year-old son, Renshu, and embark on an epic journey across China. For comfort, they turn to their most treasured possession – a beautifully illustrated hand scroll. Its ancient fables offer solace and wisdom as they travel through their ravaged country, seeking refuge.
Years later, Renshu has settled in America as Henry Dao. His daughter is desperate to understand her heritage, but he refuses to talk about his childhood. How can he keep his family safe in this new land when the weight of his history threatens to drag them down?
Spanning continents and generations, Peach Blossom Spring is a bold and moving look at the history of modern China, told through the story of one family. It’s about the power of our past, the hope for a better future, and the search for a place to call home.
What I Thought:
If your reading preferences run to epics, then I have the book for you. Peach Blossom Spring is an ambitious and sweeping epic novel, that still has a very personal feel to it, where Melissa Fu tells the story of the foundations of modern China.
In this book, we see through the eyes of one family, and follow their experiences of war and forced migration through the later half of the 20th Century. This period in China is not something I know a great deal about, so there is plenty of contextual information to get your teeth into and stimulate further reading, but it is the personal view of Meilin and Renshu that is really gripping here.
Not only does the book look at modern China, but much of the wisdom that Meilin passes on as she and Renshu travel is based in the ancient folk tales that she was told as a child and were collected on a hand-painted scroll – the only thing remaining from Renshu’s father and their old, privileged life. The stories keep their spirits up and remind them of their connections to home and family.
From fleeing the war, to fleeing the communist regime and landing in Taiwan, Meilin and Renshu’s story is one of uncertainty and struggle and, although there are obvious geographical differences, there are clear parallels to the current situation in Ukraine – millions of displaced people being forced to flee with little to remind them of their old lives.
A really interesting aspect of the novel is Renshu’s move to America, where he becomes known by his english name, Henry Dao. Although Henry is living a less restricted life in America, he still lives in fear of the ruling regime in Taiwan – his activities in the US have the potential to be reported back to the authorities, which leads to an intense paranoia that lasts throughout Henry’s life.
It’s poignant to see this fear and paranoia lead to Henry losing touch with his heritage, and not repeating the stories of his childhood to his own child – his half-chinese daughter grows up without a sense of herself which, in some ways, nullifies the sacrifices Meilin made for him all those years ago.
Despite the personal and public tragedies in this book, it does end on a hopeful note, giving a lesson that perhaps we all need to learn – clinging on to the past doesn’t often do us any good and looking to the future with hopeful eyes is something we should all aim for.
Peach Blossom Spring is published by Wildfire.
About the Author:
Melissa Fu grew up in Northern New Mexico and now lives near Cambridge, UK, with her
husband and children. With academic backgrounds in physics and English, she has worked in
education as a teacher, curriculum developer, and consultant.
Melissa was the regional winner of the Words and Women 2016 Prose Competition and
was a 2017 Apprentice with the London-based Word Factory. Her work appears in several
publications including The Lonely Crowd, International Literature Showcase, Bare Fiction,
Wasafiri Online, and The Willowherb Review. In 2019, her debut poetry pamphlet, Falling
Outside Eden, was published by the Hedgehog Poetry Press. In 2018/2019, Melissa received
an Arts Council England, Developing Your Creative Practice grant and was the David TK
Wong Fellow at the University of East Anglia.
Peach Blossom Spring is her first novel.
Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.