Sparks Book Club: A Thread of Sky
The air at top of the Golden Mountains, a must-see scenic highlight of Huangshan, China, is cold, wet and thin. In Deanna Fei’s debut novel, “A Thread of Sky,” a family of six women from three generations reluctantly comes together for a vacation in their ancestral mainland China.
Irene, a genetic researcher from Queens, has recently faced the death of her husband. Seeing that his death is pulling their family apart, Irene desperately coordinates the trip in an attempt to reunite with her three increasingly estranged daughters, her eighty-year-old mother and her distant sister.
Upon reaching the top of the Golden Mountains, and bumping into men toting sacks of rice on their shoulders, Irene wonders if “she nor her daughter had anything in common with these laborers, except a claim to being Chinese.” Irene wonders if choosing mainland China as the destination, or worse, choosing to have the family vacation was a reasonable choice at all.
One of the major topics that this book discusses is the role of women in the home and society, and the importance of their own identity. Throughout their lives, the six fiercely independent women have been trying to answer one question: What kind of woman will you be?
Lin Yulan, Irene’s mother, was once a revolutionary fighting for the Nationalists and women’s rights. Irene was a researcher with great potential who gave up her career to make her three daughters the focus of her life. Susan, Irene’s sister, was a talented poet before deciding on settling down with a husband and a stable life.
Nora, Irene’s oldest daughter, is a rising star in the Wall Street world afraid of tying the knot with her boyfriend. Kay, Irene’s second daughter, is a graduate student studying abroad in China trying to learn the culture of her ancestors. Sophie, the youngest daughter, is a Stanford-bound artist dealing with an eating disorder.
“A Thread of Sky” also touches on various personal struggles that many Asian Americans can identify with. One of the struggles that Kay encounters is answering the simple-sounding question of “Where are you from?” In America, even though Kay is American-born, the satisfying answer would be of some place foreign. But when she went to visit her ancestral land, “the honest answer was America, and still people weren’t satisfied”.
Fei is a champion of vivid storytelling. Every page of “A Thread of Sky” is crafted with descriptive words that appeal to readers’ five senses. Each chapter is devoted to a different character. However, frequent transitions between characters, settings and stories make the book seem loaded with loose and unconnected details. Therefore, following the book and understanding the main storyline can be somewhat challenging for readers at times.
With so many personal stories, secrets, and circumstances, about two-thirds of the book is used for unravelling. Readers will not feel much of a storyline development until the last third of the book. But when the book does reach its climax, readers will find it almost impossible to not finish.
Against the backdrop of a country rich in history, ancient temples, untouched sections of the Great Wall and modern bustling streets, personalities clash, personal histories unravel and decisions are regretted. Through her debut novel, Deanna Fei has successfully shown her audience the undeniable power of interpersonal connections, even in moments that make the recovery of a fractured family seem hopeless.
With love, sacrifice, family, and identity as the recurring themes, “A Thread of Sky” is the kind of book you want to read – and reread – to really see what Deanna Fei has so gracefully weaved into her words.
Written by Jenny Le
Sparks Book Club aims to bring books written within the last ten years to the attention of a larger audience. These books relate to Asian American experiences and are written by Asian American authors, clearly indicating that there are voices of Asian American writers waiting to be heard.