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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Plum-Blossom and Kai Lin
by Hedwig Weiss-Sonnenburg
Age Range: 9-11
Ten-year-old Mehua, (whose name means plum blossom), comes from a poor peasant family in rural China. She lives with her mother, father, older brother Ting Fu and her five-year-old sister Memè. After severe flooding devastates the rice fields where the family live and work, they are forced to beg on the streets for food and shelter. The parents’ only option is to sell their daughter into slavery to the wealthy Wangtaitai family. Mehua doesn’t have a choice unable to defy the traditions which allow slavery and the subservience of girl children and must endure a life of servitude.
Mehua meets fourteen-year-old Kai Lin, a spoiled and arrogant boy, who tyrannises the whole household with his appalling behaviour. Kai Lin’s teacher advises his father to send him to a boarding school, the Shanghai School for Boys, which is run by the Americans. After years of being influenced by Western ideas and democratic concepts, Kai Lin returns home completely changed. He is more sympathetic and understanding and develops an affinity with Mehua, who he now sees as an equal. Their lives become entwined as Mehua approaches adulthood and Kai Lin helps her to return home to her family but she soon realises they have other plans for her future.
German author Hedwig Weiss-Sonnenburg (1889-1975) has set her novel during a period of change in China. After the fall of the Manchu dynasty in 1911 when the old imperial family and ruling classes were driven out it led to internal struggle and civil war. Modern ideas were superseding the old archaic traditions which are reflected in Kai Lin’s new beliefs.
This extraordinary novel, translated by Joyce Emerson, is written with pathos and understanding of human pain and struggle for survival. It has the power to transport the reader to a different place and time. The strong characterisation, fluency of the narrative style and the perfect pace in which the story is told, together with the detailed description of Chinese customs and historical events create a vivid picture. This captivating and powerful work of fiction will touch your heart. The black and white illustrations by Arno are also in perfect synchrony with the spirit of the text and subject matter.