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Monday, February 25, 2013

Book Review: "Pavilion of Women"

Madame Wu runs her large household - the most prominent in their Chinese village - with precision.  She always knows what is going on and pays attention to even the smallest of details, able to distinguish the subtle differences between each of her sons' footsteps.  On her 40th birthday, instead of handing the reigns over to her eldest daughter in law, she decides to continue running the household but that it is time for her husband to take a concubine.  Family, friends, and servants are all shocked by this decision, but Madame Wu assures them it is not due to marital strife but because she does not want to bring shame to the family by becoming pregnant at such an age.  As Madame Wu settles into the Autumn of her life, she begins to explore her new freedom.  She has lived her life according to strict cultural guidelines, but as she begins to study with a foreign priest she discovers she may have always wanted more out of life.

While it was interesting to sense change simmering below the surface as China approaches WWII, there is little action throughout the story.  As Madame Wu grows closer to Brother André she experiences an awakening and her outlook on responsibility, education, and love shifts.  Something like this is a major life event but it is written without flair.  If Madame Wu is excited about this new world view, no one can tell because it is described in facts not feelings.

2 out of 5 stars.

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