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What attracted me to this one?
I have to admit that the cover appealed to me and the title sounded romantic. The blurb caught my attention and after reading a review I decided to purchase and give this a chance.
One big book...
The first thing that struck me when the book arrived was the amount of pages that I had committed to. It seemed pretty thick and I was surprised when I discovered the page count was 659 as it seemed many more. I was eager to begin though so the volume of pages had not deterred me.
Set in the early 1900's and in America we meet the leading lady of this epic tale, Hope Newfield. For the last few years she has been deliberating an engagement with a successful American man, though it is clear that she feels nothing for him. When she is asked to give private tuition in English to a young Chinese man she is not prepared for the attraction that will be evident between them and it is soon afterwards that she decides she cannot become engaged to a man that she doesn't love. Hope's love for Leong Po - Yu (who she names Paul) blossoms and it is too much for them to bear being apart even though marriage will provoke the locals - racism is evident and mixed marriage is not tolerated well. An awkward train journey delivers them in separate class carriages to a location where a priest is prepared to join them in marriage although it can only ever be low key. Soon after their joining and the birth of Pearl, their daughter, Paul returns to do his revolutionary work in China. His small family are sent for once he is settled and here we see Hope subjected to racism too. From now on Hope will follow her husband around China, spending long periods of time without him, as he follows his dream in revolutionising his country. Is their love strong enough to see them through the trials of a changing country?
And so the epic saga began...
I soon settled with the writing style of Aimee Liu and thought it, at times, quite eloquent. The descriptive passages leave little out and I had a good idea of what the home was like that Hope shared with a landlady. As the prose begins in 1906 and is set in America it took me a while to flow with the passages. Also, it took me some time to warm to the main protagonist, Hope. She has lost the love of her life in an accident and still remembers him fondly. For some years she has had the attention of another who she does not love but can't decide if she should marry or not. I was relieved when she met Leung Po - Yu (Paul) as there was an indication that she may feel something for him and it would speed her along with her decision to marry. After an earthquake wreaks havoc in the locale she realises that her decision must be no and ends her relationship in order to pursue a new one with Paul - who is literally waiting in the wings.
I was surprised by how soon the new lovers made arrangements to be married but found it believable that two people can feel so strongly about one another in a short space of time. Paul is Chinese and is in America to study. He also heads a newspaper that is helping in the revolution in China. Much of his time is spent on this cause and he has powerful contacts pulling his strings - not least his paternalistic mother who resides in China and is woefully angered by his marriage to Hope. I really didn't know what to make of Paul at all. I understood the cultural differences and it was interesting to note things such as not holding hands in public - but try as I might I couldn't recognize any real passion coming from this guy. He appeared to genuinely love Hope but I didn't have goose bumps when they came together for the first time or married and spent the night together. When they had been apart for a while he arrived back and I readied myself for some real emotive scenes - it didn't happen.
After settling, eventually, into a home of their own and near her good friend Mary Jane, I enjoyed the developments in the relationship between Hope and Paul and seeing them overcome radical hatred. They had some tough experiences to endure and also a joyous one when their beloved daughter, Pearl, was born. All seemed set for some nice additional characters to be developed when the tale is turned up on it's head and Paul returns to China with instructions for Hope and Pearl to follow. I was intrigued by how Paul's mother would receive his bride and daughter.
Throughout the book there are lots of political details which include many Chinese names. I found these to be difficult to remember and take with me through the prose. Each time they were mentioned I had forgotten who they where and what relevance they had. The passages of politics detracted from the story for me and I found it slowed the pace right down - I felt a bit bogged down by it at times and had to put the book away until I was inspired to continue. It is a shame that the politics and history could not have been interwoven in a more creative way so as to keep the pages turning as the story itself is intriguing and beautiful when it is allowed to flow.
In Shanghai Paul greets his small family and arranges local transport to their residence. I found the description of the environment thorough and had a great idea of the locale but once again I was impatient to be getting on with the story. Much of the time spent in Shanghai see's Hope without Paul as he is off on his political business. There are periods of interest when she makes a friend and starts to socialize with her as they are interesting together, this is short lived though, unfortunately.
A newborn son delights Hope and Paul who call him Morris. Pearl now has a playmate and all is rolling along nicely, until Paul leaves again.
The moment that I had anticipated arrived and a visit was arranged to Paul's tyrannical mother. This I found really interesting and horrifying at the same time. The customs and traditions made for good reading and the pages turned quickly now. The visit was very short lived, though, so after a bit of excitement it was back to the normality of Hope on her own with the children and servants.
The title of the book gets a mention as the family have a mountain vacation to escape the heat. Some tender moments between Paul and his children made for heart warming reading but when it came to relations between himself and Hope it never really developed any heat and before I know it he has to be off again and they are back home.
I wanted so much more from this prose, I wanted Paul to excite me with his intense passion and love for his beautiful wife. I wanted to see her satisfied by his attention and apparent love. Moments of togetherness are few and far between and I was left feeling like I wanted more.
The tale rolls onwards and there are more destination changes to come along with war. Aimee is a very good historian and it all seems accurate. I can't fault her on that aspect of the book at all. She also has a nice way of writing and is competent, however, I would have loved more effort to have been put into the two characters and a bit of passion to keep me turning those pages.
There are a host of other characters who appear through the book, some I would have liked to have known a little better but mostly they were developed appropriately.
Hope and Paul where pretty well rounded and due to the period in time and cultural differences I think I got a good insight into Paul's personality. Hope was well rounded but still I didn't really connect with her or have an interest in her come the end of the book, I tried but it just didn't happen for me.
From 0.01p at present time plus postage and packing
I have reviewed this book honestly and for me it held more political and historical description than I like. I would also have liked to see more passion between Hope and her husband Paul. This does not mean to say that this book is bad in any way as it is far from it. Aimee is a competent writer and those of you who do enjoy lots of descriptive work will be in your element here as it is a wonderful concept. I like the fact that it is based on real life too. Aimee has done lots of research and it is evident as the historical detail and political content appears to be accurate. Her observation of racism and prejudice is impressive. At times in the book the pages did turn pretty quickly for me but I became disheartened when I had to get through passages of political content - it is an integral part of the story but for me less would have been more to benefit the pace of the prose. We are all different though and this is only my opinion - I like a faster pace in my books. Even though I couldn't get into it I feel the book still justifies a good 4 stars as I can see how it would appeal to others, it just wasn't for me.
Also published on Ciao
Cloud Mountain by Aimee Liu
This has to be one of the most moving and haunting book I have ever read. I don't often read books twice and this one I have and it stays with me for months and years as it is sometime since I read it. I felt inspired to write the review having talked about our favourite books on facebook.
The book is a novel but it is based on the author's grandmother's diaries so pretty much a story based on facts and a lot of research too.
WHAT AMAZON SAY
"California, 1906. Hope Newfield and Leong Po-yo fall in love. Defying every taboo, this independent American woman and aristocratic Chinaman marry. But in the coming years, as they move from San Francisco to China, their love is tested by prejudice, conflicting loyalties and different traditions."
That is a very understated product description as this book is so much more ; it is a love story as well as a history of China and to an extent also a piece of US history.
Hope is a teacher and she meets Po-yo while tutoring him in English. This is the year of the Los Angeles earth quake and their relationship develops after they are caught up in the earthquake and all the aftershock at the time.
At the time white women did not marry Chinese men and it was a major social no no. They ran away with two other Chinese men and European women to get married in secret.
After a short while Po-yo was summoned back to China, pre revolution China and of course Hope follows some months later. Her descriptions of China and all that she experienced was a real eye opener. When Po-yo met her from the boat they could not show any emotion despite not having seen each other for some months. Hope found this all very strange and hard to accept. She was now the inferior one treated as a lesser person by all she came into contact with outside the home.
The story continues with Po-yo becoming involved with the Revolution and Mao, the family have to escape and live in the mountains. The relationship has its ups and downs, children are born and the family move from one place to another. The politics in China around the Revolution also has a major impact upon their lives and this makes for very interesting reading.
AIMEE LIU'S NOTES - From her website
"My great-grandfather was the Viceroy of Canton in the late 1800s, my great-grandmother his last concubine. In 1903, their son -- my grandfather -- was the first Chinese to stand publicly and call for the overthrow of China's Manchu rulers. In 1911, after working for years with Sun Yat-sen, my grandfather was appointed the first Senator from Hupei in China's first Republic. But in between, he ran Sun's newspaper in San Francisco and saved the life of a young white woman --his English teacher -- during the Great San Francisco Earthquake. In spite of laws prohibiting "mixed marriage," my grandfather married his teacher... my grandmother."
I found the story all the more poignant as it was based on the author's great grandmother's life, these things actually happened. The descriptions of the fighting in China, the life in a traditional Chinese house, riding in the rickshaws through the narrow streets, the descriptions of the amazing mountain scenery are brought to life by the authors' beautiful writing and the fact that they come from first hand experience.
According to the author about 75% of the novel is based on scenes that she managed to get from her family's memories, photographs, scrapbooks, documents, or letters. The rest Ms Liu created and pieced together from historical accounts and other firsthand memoires. She used thee to build the story adding elements from her own imagination to bring to life the scenes and characters.
I thought the way Aimee Liu approached the story was perfect and her writing was so well paced and descriptive without being fussy or over emotional.
Some of the descriptions were so well told that I could clearly picture the scene. It was almost like watching a film. One scene that come to mind was when they visited Po-yo's mother, Hope describes how the mother looks down to her tiny bound feet. Po-yo's mother found Hope's feet disgusting!
When Po-yo approached his mother her had to kowtow and approach her on his knees bowing and keeping down all the time he was in her presence. The matriarch of the family was all powerful and her control over Po-yo had a major negative influence over his and Hope's marriage. I found this aspect of the story showing China's social traditions to be really interesting. This was a time when few Europeans were living in China and even fewer actually living with Chinese people so these insights fascinating to me.
I think another thing that came through was the racist attitudes and bigotry that existed both in America at the time and also in China. The Chinese aristocracy looked down on Europeans and the Europeans in China in places like Shanghai in turn thought they were superior to the Chinese. Hope was sort of stuck in the middle of it all. She was able to observe in a unique position all these social interactions but it also meant that she was quite isolated especially when Po-yo was with off fighting in the Revolution.
Hope begins to write articles for American newspapers about her life in China and what was happening there at the time. This did not go down well with her husband at all when he found out and he forbade her to continue. Hope does maintain a relationship with the other two girls who got married to Chinese men with her but their lives are different again from Hope's. Neither of them were as educated as Hope and I feel that their husband's were not as high in the social world of China. It was interesting to see the contrast in their experiences to that of Hope. I thought how brave all of them were really to take such a huge leap of faith into a country and way of life that was a world away from America at the time with absolutely no family support.
Not only is this the story of Hope and Po-yo's love and marriage and a very different insight in China and its history at the time but it is also a really tense thriller at times. Hope and Po-yo lived through some pretty hairy times and I found it hard to put the book down some nights as I was there living through the tensions and fears with them.
WHAT THE CRITICS HAVE SAID
"The prose has a haunting, lyrical quality and an aura of authenticity." -ALA Library Journal
"Liu's prose is elegant and shifts effortlessly from descriptive passages to dialogue, from poetry to journals and correspondence. She incorporates maps and a chronology to assist the historically weary reader...with details of the plot. CLOUD MOUNTAIN is full of surprising twists and turns of fate as Liu weaves this tale of conflicting political factions and forbidden love." -The Book Report
"...a saga that vividly and poignantly traces the history of a star-crossed couple based on the lives of [Liu's] own grandparents." -- The Asian Reporter
SO IN SUMMARY
This is a truly great book in my opinion. The story is exciting and really interesting and a real learning experience, a modern classic that haunted me for years. I think the last time I read this was a couple of years ago and yet it is still clear in my mind. I really admired Hope, she has amazing strength of character and was so brave and resilient.
If you haven't read this and like books set in China, or you like different love stories set in other countries and times. If you have any interest in the history of China at this time then I urge you to give this book a try. The author writes is an easy style using a variety of approaches. Some parts of the story are told directly with Hope as a narrator, some as letters and telegrams from the main characters and also at times poems, diary entries and news paper articles also add to the story. This makes the story so intricate and there is always something new to grab your attention.
Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same user name.