Approaching, you wouldn’t even know it was a library or reading room. The gorgeous LiYuan library is designed with the same sticks the locals collect for fuel in the winter. It makes it blend in to the mountainside where it’s built just a five minute walk out of town.
The stick covering also creates a lush and calm atmosphere inside, with plenty of daylight softly tempered by the scattered pattern from the sticks. The rest of the interior is made of wood as well, and clever split level changes. It looks positively magical and warm; you can’t convince me this isn’t a place I’d want to stay forever. 🥰
Recommended: yes For a generational story of understanding, for a look at recent historical Chinese eras, for a story that pierces your heart and makes you want only the best for the characters, for a blend of romance and survival and coming-of-age.
Summary Mini Pao lives with her sister and parents in a pre-war Shanghai divided among foreign occupiers and Chinese citizens, a city known as the “Paris of the East” with its contrast of vibrant night life and repressive social mores. Already considered an old maid at twenty-three, Mini boldly rejects the path set out for her as she struggles to provide for her family and reckons with her desire for romance and autonomy. Mini’s story of love, betrayal, and determination unfolds in the Western-style cafes, open-air markets, and jazz-soaked nightclubs of Shanghai—the same city where, decades later, her granddaughter Ting embarks on her own journey toward independence.
Ting Lee has grown up behind an iron curtain in a time of scarcity, humility, and forced-sameness in accordance with the strictures of Chairman Mao’s cultural revolution. As a result, Ting’s imagination burns with curiosity about fashion, America, and most of all, her long-lost grandmother Mini’s glamorous past and mysterious present. As her thirst for knowledge about the world beyond 1970s Shanghai grows, Ting is driven to uncover her family’s tragic past and face the difficult truth of what the future holds for her if she remains in China.
Thoughts: This was an elaborate and impressive saga of romance, and survival, and coming-of-age. Ting ages from a child to an adult women in the course of the story, and we see Mini from late teens to her elder years. That span alone is a lot to cover, and so the story relfects that in how long it can take to read. While it was engaging the whole way through, the concepts and stories are complex enough that it simply takes some time.