by ANNA WILLIAMS
A few months ago I joined a bookclub, something I had wanted to do for years but never quite got round to. Well late this year I finally managed it and although we have only had a couple of meetings, it has been fun and of course interesting, if a little strange, to widen my horizons and read something suggested by somebody else.
I have to admit, despite my head being keen to pass over the responsibility of choosing a new book to a book group, my heart struggled; allowing somebody else to choose such a personal thing as a book did not sit that easily with me. For me, reading has become as engrained in part of my nightly rituals as cleaning my teeth. The house is quiet, all the kids are asleep and a stillness falls. Finally it’s time for me. I love the escapism of reading, the getting so caught up in a plot that you cannot wait to find out what happens next, when characters are so well written that you genuinely care about what becomes of them and I believe the impact of a really good book can stay with you a lifetime.
So to let go of the opportunity to pick my own book and hand it over to someone else, however like-minded they are felt like a big thing for me. However, I need not of worried this time at least. “The Girl Who Wrote In Silk” by Kelli Estes was a great choice.
Set in Seattle, weaving back and forth from past to present day, it tells the story of two female characters linked by a tragic event in history. It starts in the present with Inara, who should be following in her fathers footsteps to start her business career, but upon inheriting her Great Aunt’s rundown estate on an island off the coast, she instead decides to embark on restoring it to its former glory. In doing so she finds an embroidered sleeve hidden under a stair tread and sets about discovering exactly what it is and who left it there.
From there we meet the undoubted heroine of the book, Mei Lein, who faces persecution as a young Chinese-American girl during a little-known era of American history when Chinese citizens were brutally forced out of the country they called home. Mei Lein somehow manages to survive this ordeal and falls in love with the man who rescued her, Joseph.
The story recounts their life together, the difficulties and isolation they faced from an inter-racial marriage, and the events that lead to Mei Lein using the art of embroidery to symbolize and teach her son about her heritage and her tragic past. In the present day Inara discovers that her family is more closely connected to the embroidered sleeve than she could of imagined and she battles with herself and her family in order to right the wrongs of the past.
This book is a real page-turner and beautifully written, in particular the story of Mei Lein and her family is what is really at the heart of this book. Some may argue that the present day plot is unnecessary and waters down the often heart-wrenching story of Mei Lein. She is a true survivor, dignified and mild mannered but with an inner strength and resolve that she holds just below the surface, something she needs to depend on frequently in her attempt to live peacefully amongst racial intolerance.
Other characters are well written too, Joseph, Mei Lein’s husband is depicted as a kind, gentle man who the reader immediately warms to for looking after Mei Lein and showing her love. The villain of the story, Duncan Campbell, is also a character the author develops well and ensures the reader instantly feels very uncomfortable with.
The contemporary characters and plot unfortunately lack the depth and interest of the 19th century ones and rely heavily on the historic narrative to propel the story along. There are a few too many coincidences and clichés to make it fully believable, but the two stories flow well and together they form a very poignant, emotional read. This is a captivating story, not at all taxing for the reader but has enough substance to hold interest and draw you in with a heroine that stays with you long after the last page.
It is very possible I would have never read this book if it were up to me alone, I tend to avoid dual storylines or anything too historic. But I have learnt that it can be good for the head and the heart to step outside the comfort zone and safe haven of familiar authors or genre’s, to take a chance on something you may not have chosen for yourself and find that you become utterly absorbed.