Lily Lin is an impoverished waitress and wanna-be novelist living in a cramped apartment in New York city and having an affair with her former creative writing professor when she receives a mysterious letter, purporting to be from an aunt she didn’t know existed and offering her 3 million dollars to complete a few simple tasks—travel China’s Silk Road, visit a blind fortune-teller and tell him nothing but lies, seduce a monk and sleep with him in a certain position, find a flower that grows only in ice crevasses at the top of the Mountains of Heaven.
Lily fancies herself an adventurer, and with an advance check for $50,000 in her pocket, she’s ready to go. She sets off to complete the tasks, along the way picking up a younger lover, Alex. He’s 21 and she’s 29, and that’s enough of an age difference to matter to her although not to him. He’s puppy-dog in love and devoted practically from the minute he lays eyes on her, and he provides a nice counter-point to her experiences throughout the book as she tries to decide how serious he really is and how serious she wants him to be.
As I read Song of the Silk Road, I found myself picturing a brush making the bold marks of Chinese characters, ink soaking into paper. The style of prose is bold and quick, and there isn’t a lot of subtlety. Although it’s touted as a voyage of self-discovery and at the end Lily herself learns a previously-hidden truth about her family (which, to be honest, I saw coming), in many ways Lily herself is a picaresque character, experiencing and feeling emotions in various situations, but emerging essentially the same at the end. Lily is a sensual character, describing various sexual encounters in great detail and making the reader see the beauty of mountain lakes, or feel the hot wind of the desert, or be hungry for the various feasts that show up throughout the book.
There is a strong theme of family running throughout the novel, introducing themes of identity and loss, and different ways that loss is dealt with (after death, through adoption, in visions, etc). There is also a strong mystical theme. Buddist monks, fortune tellers, visions, the concepts of yin and yang, sexual qi—all run strong threads throughout the story.
I’m pleased to announce that one of you can travel with Lily to her adventures on the Silk Road. Leave a comment below and enter to win a free copy. We’ll announce the winner on 4/27.This Giveaway is Closed.
Elizabeth can attest to knowing what a hot desert wind feels like and would love to earn $3 million dollars for traveling. Read more of her adventures at her blog Planet Nomad.