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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)
by Cao Wenxuan
Age Range: 12+
The precious dragonfly eyes – ancient glass beads passed down through the generations – will one day be inherited by Ah Mei from her grandmother Océane, known as Nainai. Ah Mei has always been especially close to Nainai and is proud to look like her, but throughout her young life growing up in the Blue House in Shanghai she experiences many changes, although the one constant is her beloved grandmother.
Dragonfly Eyes is a story that spans 50 years starting in Marseilles during the 1920s and following Du Meixi, a Chinese man from Shanghai, his French wife Océane and their children and grandchildren. After several happy years in France, Du Meixi and his family relocates to Shanghai so he can help to run the family silk factory.
Shanghai is a thriving international city and life is good for this close-knit family but historical events begin to have a serious impact on their lives. First, the war with Japan from 1937 to 1945 followed by the civil war in China. They suffer shortages of food and clothing while their income steadily depletes and life becomes increasingly hard.
As the political situation changes some of the inhabitants of their home city become suspicious of the family, particularly Océane who, in their eyes is a ‘foreigner’ because of her European heritage, and racism and threats to their safety become commonplace.
Dragonfly Eyes by award-winning Chinese author Cao Wenxuan, translated by Helen Wang is a novel of such depth and richness that is beautifully captured in the English translation. Wenxuan has set his lyrical story in France and China and although it doesn’t focus specifically on the war, the upheaval of the civil war within China or the Cultural Revolution during the 1960s, it forms an important backdrop to a very powerful and emotive story that has at its centre, the strong bond between Ah Mei and her feisty Nainai.
Wenxuan is a Professor of Chinese literature at Peking University and is considered China's Hans Christian Andersen. Just as poetic as Bronze and Sunflower, this novel is another masterpiece that vividly captures the historical context and the lives of the Du family.