Originally published: 17 March 2022
Author: Melissa Fu
Published by: Wildfire Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 400 pages
Reading dates: 14-18 March 2022
With 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 the Japanese are advancing. A young mother, Meilin, is forced to flee her burning city with her four-year-old son, Renshu, and embark on an epic journey across China. For comfort, they turn to their most treasured possession – a beautifully illustrated hand scroll. Its ancient fables offer solace and wisdom as they travel through their ravaged country, seeking refuge.
Years later, Renshu has settled in America as Henry Dao. His daughter is desperate to understand her heritage, but 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?
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 search for a place to call home.
Peach Blossom Spring is just the sort of book I love – a book that spans decades, that looks at families and culture and teaches me about world events!
Peach Blossom Spring begins in Changsha, China in 1938. Meilin is awaiting the return of her husband from the war against the Japanese but while her brother-in-law returns, her husband does not. Meilin and her young son Renshu soon have to flee from their home along with her husband’s family and what comes next is a battle for survival as they try and escape the Japanese. Meilin is a strong woman – the horrors they faced are devastating and their losses are huge – they see death up close but Meilin keeps going and keeps Renshu safe, often entertaining him with stories from a scroll gifted to her by her father in law.
The family travels through China but the Japanese continue to follow but eventually by luck and ingenuity Meilin and Renshu make it to Taiwan where they make a home for themselves. Although never feeling completely safe, Meilin finds work and Renshu is able to study.
By 1960, Renshu has the opportunity to study engineering in America and leaves Northwestern University in Illinois. The story continues with Renshu who adopts the American name Henry Dao, looking at the difficulties he faces in a foreign land and how is still wary of his past. In 1964, he meets and falls in love with Rachel and although her parents are initially reluctant to offer their approval (inter-racial marriages had only just been legalised), they come round and the couple marry.
In the early 1970s, Henry and Rachel have a daughter Lily and the story continues with her as she struggles with her identity as a mixed race girl who knows little about her Chinese heritage or where her Chinese family are from.
I’ve simplified the story somewhat here – there is so much more detail and important events that I haven’t mentioned. This is a period of history that I knew nothing about – school lessons always focussed on the 2nd World War and the events in Europe and I had no idea there was also a war going on between Japan and China. The devastation in China was shocking and their journey to safety made me think of what the Ukrainian people are going through. Henry’s immigration to America looks at how he still lives in fear of the Chinese political parties and distances himself from the Chinese community to keep a low profile even though he has nothing to hide. Lily is desperate to know About her heritage and to embrace the Chinese part of her but her father refuses to talk about his life or what happened to him.
Based on a conversation the author had with her own father, this is a work of fiction inspired by that conversation. A truly epic story that moved me, made me think and yet again taught me about things I had no awareness of, Peach Blossom Spring is a beautifully written and well researched debut and I would heartily recommend it.
Many thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me on the tour and to Wildfire Books for my early proof copy. Check out what other reviewers are saying on their blogs below
About the author:
Melissa Fu grew up in Northern New Mexico and now lives near Cambridge, UK, with her husband and children. With academic backgrounds in physics and English, she has worked in education as a teacher, curriculum developer, and consultant.
Melissa was the regional winner of the Words and Women 2016 Prose Competition and was a 2017 Apprentice with the London-based Word Factory. Her work appears in several publications including The Lonely Crowd, International Literature Showcase, Bare Fiction, Wasafiri Online, and The Willowherb Review. In 2019, her debut poetry pamphlet, Falling Outside Eden, was published by the Hedgehog Poetry Press. In 2018/2019, Melissa received an Arts Council England, Developing Your Creative Practice grant and was the David TK Wong Fellow at the University of East Anglia.
Peach Blossom Spring is her first novel.