The Concubine’s Daughter by Pai Kit Fai

concubinesYou may have read—and possibly discussed with a book club– the amazingly popular Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, the fictional story of a young Japanese woman (if not, you’ll want to read it.)  The Concubine’s Daughter, set in China in the early 20th century, is also about a resourceful young girl who grew to be a woman in a culture very different from our own.  In this culture, girls were often unwanted and sometimes put to death soon after their births, might have their feet deformed by foot binding, and could easily be bought and sold for amazingly low sums of money.  Many, too, were denied the opportunity to attend school.

In 1906—only a little over 100 years ago, although it is hard to believe that we are not reading about the distant past—Li is born to a well-to-do farmer in his 70s and the 15-year-old concubine whom he bought against her will from a family in financial trouble.  Twice the farmer, desperately disappointed when his longed-for son turns out to be a daughter, tries to kill the baby.  When he fears to do so due to a superstition, he plots to sell her for as much money as possible.  Li’s life contains terrible difficulties; finally, when she is a young teenager, her owner becomes angry with her, and members of his staff beat her and throw her into the river to drown.  She survives to find love and happiness, to achieve her dream of becoming a scholar and a successful businesswoman, and to have a daughter of her own.

This daughter, Sing, grows up to be an expert in martial arts.  After a jealous acquaintance sells her, she eventually ends up in a world much like that of a Japanese geisha.  She has to fill opium pipes for a rich man, serve him food and drink, and entertain him with her music, but she is determined to escape before he becomes her owner.  Throughout the miseries and joys of her life, she never ends her search for her father.

If you are intrigued by the lives of strong women living in cultures that seem very strange to us, you won’t want to miss this book!

(Helen Snow, Information Services)

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