Book 19: Peach Blossom Spring by Melissa Fu
"Within 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, as a young wife, Meilin’s future is bright. But with the Japanese army approaching, Meilin and her four year old son, Renshu, are forced to flee their home. Relying on little but their wits and a beautifully illustrated hand scroll, filled with ancient fables that offer solace and wisdom, they must travel through a ravaged country, seeking refuge.
Years later, Renshu has settled in America as Henry Dao. Though his daughter is desperate to understand her heritage, 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? Yet how can Lily learn who she is if she can never know her family’s story?
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 haunting question: What would it mean to finally be home?
"Renshu," whispers his ma, "have you noticed that none of the travelers face backwards? They move forwards throughout the landscapes and never look back." ... Remember, she says, these traveling scholars carry everything they need on their backs They leave behind anything that weighs them down. Remember, she says, that regret is a heavy burden. And as she puts an arm around Renshu and points at the traveler resting underneath cherry blossoms at the end of his long journey, she whispers, "Remember that to have an orchard is to honor the generations that came before and will come after." Peach Blossom Spring, Melissa Fu, pg 23
I don't even know where to start. the plot of this book follows three generations: starting with meilin, then her son Renshu/Henry, and, finally, renshu/henry's daughter lily. as a first generation American, the story feels familiar. it's a story of resilience and perseverance. it is a complicated story of the lengths a parent will go to protect their child and how the decisions they make affect their children as they move into each phase of their lives.
this is one of the most beautiful books i have ever read. spanning several decades and so beautifully capturing an entire familial history; fictionalized for the sake of the novel, but so steeped in raw honesty and authenticity.
i identify with lily’s desperation to understand her family and her heritage and her feelings of “other” throughout her life. feeling like she isn't american but also not Chinese (or in my case, asian) enough. by the end, i wept for the family i have had and lost without understanding their lives and for the family i have never met and their experiences that have been lost with them.
my grandma is half chinese and i have asked her questions about her father, my great grandfather, who came to the philippines during the war; but there isn’t much that she could share. he had been betrothed to someone in china and only visited sparingly. this gave me more context to what was happening during these times and it makes me want to learn more about my background and more about my family history.
i think that's what makes this book so heart-wrenchingly breathtaking. it is a book that reminds us of home. it's a book that seeps into the very core of our identities as asian-american, as Americans.