As a female living in the United States in 2012, it’s difficult for me to imagine having no choice about the direction of my life. In Shanghai in the 1930’s, however, a woman obeyed her parents, fulfilled her duty by marrying, and lived a life centered around her family’s honor, with no regard for her own desires or feelings. In All the Flowers in Shanghai, Duncan Jepson tells the story of Feng, a young Chinese woman. When Feng’s older sister dies, Feng is forced to marry a wealthy businessman to secure the family’s place in society and preserve the family’s honor. Feng, an innocent and naive teenager, finds herself in the midst of a rigid and harsh world, and she is ill-prepared for her new surroundings. Cut-off from her loved ones, Feng quickly learns that her sole purpose is to produce a male heir. As she learns to survive in her new life, Feng becomes bitter and ruthless, and vows to repay the pain that so many have caused her.
Set against the tapestry of a changing China, All the Flowers in Shanghai is an epic story about love, forgiveness, choices, and consequences. Feng is a vulnerable girl, happy to be the second-born without the pressures of her older sister. Feng’s abrupt removal from her peaceful life drew me into the story, evoking my sympathy and capturing my attention. The narrative, which covers several decades, is touching and gripping, but the story is not without faults. The primary expectation of Feng is that she will produce a male heir. The details surrounding this responsibility were entirely too graphic. As many of you know, I often review Christian fiction titles for this site, so I feel I must warn you about the descriptive scenes found in this book. While I am glad I finished the story, I was close to putting the book down on multiple occasions. Although I could have done without these scenes, I appreciated the historical context and the real consequences that Feng faced because of her actions. While Feng’s bitterness is understandable, her heartless choices are devastating. As the years go by, Feng moves forward, finding a measure of happiness, but a reckoning awaits. In the end, Feng must learn to live with her choices, while searching for peace in the midst of a country engulfed in a fast-moving revolution.
All the Flowers in Shanghai is a fascinating novel, and one I enjoyed. Although I recommend it with caution, Duncan Jepson has created a moving story and a dramatic glimpse into a world that is far removed from our own.
Lauren is a wife, mother of two, and an avid reader. She thanks William Morrow for the review copy of this book. Lauren blogs at Baseballs and Bows.