Rachid Belkacemi Belkacemi de El Güirio, Mich., Mexico
Mignon et impertinent, une lecture rapide ... aurait aimé plus cependant.
Boy how I wish I had read this first. Let me preface this by saying that I loved the movie and was greatly looking forward to delving into the book that inspired such a fine flick. That being said, the novel basically contains the same interesting characters, intriguing themes, and fun plot twists but lacks nearly all the emotional depth and philosophical/moral quandaries generated in the film. That's right, the movie delivered in the areas where the book is usually king! I believe this book is probably better than the measly two stars I've rated it but, based on admittedly unreasonable expectations, I was completely disappointed and underwhelmed at nearly every turn of the page.
Let me first get one thing straight: this is not chick-lit. I saw a review of this book in which it was classified as such, but whoever wrote that about Three Sisters clearly did not get it, nor did he/she know much of the novel's historical background. With that off my chest, I have to admit that I am not particularly enthusiastic about the book. Bi Feiyu attempt at a satiric, yet tragic portrayal of Chinese village life in the mid-70s (up to the 1980s) is a good one, but the bleakness and cruelty were a bit too harsh for my liking. Prior to reading this book, I had always assumed that with Communist rule - whether it was good for China or not remains debatable - women's emancipation received a boost. Mao Zedong wanted to get rid of traditional hierarchy (heavily influenced by Confucianism) and replace it with a society in which everyone (but natural state enemies like the bourgeoisie) would be equal. But right off the bat, the Wang sisters' family is described as a dysfunctional one. Embarrassingly, there are too many daughters, so something must be wrong with either the father's genes or the mother's womb. Then, after mother Shi Guifang finally gives birth to a son, she concludes that now that her place has been earned, she can resort to hanging about lazily around the house. It's Yumi, the eldest, who cares for baby brother Little Eight, and she enjoys flaunting him around the village. Clearly, men are still more important than women, even in seventies' China. The father of the Wang girls (and boy) is the local Party Secretary and with that comes power: he enjoys sleeping around with married women. And they all comply without protest. He only comes to grief when he is caught in the act with the wife of a fellow Party member: a clear-cut case of double standards. Another example is Yumi's unfortunate engagement to "the aviator" Peng. Differences between city and countryside are emphasized by her lack of education and his eloquent written Chinese. In dynastic China, her village peers would congratulate her for baiting a city scholar(-bureaucrat). In Communist China, she has done well by hooking a potential hero. Again, women's rights are an alien concept when Peng tries to convince her to sleep with him (before marriage) and she can only protest weakly. After a certain calamity takes place in the Wang family (which underlines the inequality between the sexes all the more) and false rumours reach him in faraway Beijing, he does not hesitate to cut all ties. Women who lose their virginity before tying the knot or who have intercourse with someone other than their husband will always be considered sullied goods. It truly does not matter whether they were overcome by romantic feelings and lust, coaxed (by a man in power) into a sordid affair, or raped. Finally, I thought the construction of the book was a bit haphazard: the Chinese title translates as "Yumi", which is the eldest sister's name. But only the first chapter is dedicated to her. The second part centers on Yuxiu, who tries to follow in Yumi's footsteps (or not quite) and flees the village. The third part is the odd one out, as Yuyang is the youngest girl in the family and has made it into teacher-school, but she has nothing to do with Yumi nor Yuxiu. I had hoped that, like in chapter two, the relationship between the sisters would feature more prominently. For me, it is therefore the most disappointing part of the book. Three Sisters is a book that I'd recommend to someone who is interested in changes in Chinese society, but I'd advise reading up a little on twentieth century Chinese history first.