Taking place in 1930s Shanghai, The Nine Fold Heaven (Kensington) is a literary journey that transforms the reader into another time and place within Chinese life and holds them captive with atmospheric detail, tone, and imagery. This book is the follow-up to Yip’s Skeleton Women, which featured the life of the narrator, Camilla, in her life as a singer/entertainer and covert spy. Though you would probably want to read The Nine Fold Heaven if you’ve read Skeleton Woman in order to continue on with the story, you don’t necessarily have to read the former to just pick-up The Nine Fold Heaven as a stand-alone. I read only the latter myself, but I’m now anxious to return to the first book and see where it all began for Camilla. The Nine Fold Heaven does start off with information to catch you up to speed on Camilla’s life.
Shanghai is lawless during this time period and run by gangs vying for position and money (made through drugs, gambling, and sex). Camilla is caught in the middle of it as for protection she works for an organized crime gang leader. By the start of The Nine Fold Heaven, Camilla has returned to Shanghai after fleeing to Hong Kong for safety. Under cover of secret disguises and careful intelligence, she begins the search for her missing baby, Jinjin, and lover, Jinying (who happens to be the son of Master Lung, the gang boss she worked for).
Told her baby was dead previously, she doesn’t believe that as she hears him speaking to her in her head. This propels her to take every lead and trail to find him, yet within the constrictions of her needing to not be seen as she is a very popular entertainer and escort, a “songbird” known as the best in the clubs and a household name. She’s appeared in many a tabloid column of Rainbow Chang, who is quite the investigative reporter. Rainvow and her Pink Skeleton crew might even expose her again!
The Nine Fold Heaven is told in first person narration, which is hard for almost any author to pull off correctly. Yip does this splendidly; she absorbed me into the covert life of Camilla so that I was lost on the busy streets, riding the rickshaw, or attending a function, all through Camilla’s eyes. I understood the chaos of Shanghai from Yip and could picture the dark and dank streets lined with poverty and drug use that lead to murder and mayhem. Many women were left to fend for themselves any way they could, by selling themselves (it always makes me sad about that and how even within this there are always tiers, from entertainers and seductresses who sleep with the wealthy, to women who just sell themselves on the street).
There were so many orphans and orphanages and the plight of these children played a large role in this novel for Yip, as she strived to help us understand how these various city vices and crime has such severe consequences. She did a wonderful job showcasing the struggle between the wealthy and the impoverished. My heart-strings were fine-tuned for the life of these young children living in orphanages. She also gives readers a glimpse into the harsh life of women, who are generally discarded when widowed, poor, or just happen to be a child who is a girl.
I loved Camilla’s voice in the novel, both jaded, controlled, methodical, and focused, while also strong, determined, and motivated. These traits kept her on track of her mission and, of course, were also learned in order for her to survive. Though I didn’t feel a large emotional attachment to Camilla, I did feel so much respect for her and admire her persistence in her life and in her pursuit to find her loved ones. I think feeling that might have been even better for me than having an attachment to her. Camilla isn’t the kind of woman who really allows you to have an attachment to her, so my characterization doesn’t mean that Yip hasn’t developed her well. In fact, it means she has fully developed her as the woman she is. We feel her detachment from people because that is how she must be in order to perform the acts she does and the tasks she is told to do. Plus, she has a shell from all those that have used her over the years.
Due to her personality being such it was then so much more endearing when you felt her incessant desire to find her son again and her need to find her lover, who is the only one she has opened her true heart too. Through dangerous situations she keeps investigating their existence, with some unlikely foes turned friends. This made for some other interesting female characters in the book like Rainbow, as well as her magician friend from the Skeleton Women, named Shadow.
By the last half of the book, many characters come together (I don’t want to spoil by naming!) in order to fight against the crime boss and finally be free from their possessive chains. The ending is so sweet and makes you feel like through it all, Camilla survived and found happiness. Then, it makes you think that through trial, triumphs are attainable. Camilla finds her good fortune, but the fact that she has a son, which would be good fortune in Chinese culture, also wasn’t lost on me. I felt happy that she also forms a relationship with an orphan girl, ultimately also caring for her.
I really liked all the poetry and excerpts from letters and tabloid articles that Yip used throughout the novel. She ultimately shows us so much of Yin and Yang, as she explores the reality that everyone and everyone has ups and downs, positives and negatives, and each action a reaction or consequence. That is the struggle with good versus evil and Yip incorporates Chinese culture and beliefs heavily into her prose. Her sprinkling by Camilla of Chinese lore, sayings, and proverbs throughout the book really have had me thinking and I realize how much they apply to anyone’s life, no matter what time period or situation.
As with most Asian fictional literature, the book reads as if translated to English. Chinese people who speak English still have a way about their sentences that doesn’t always follow our grammar rules. Yip is so good otherwise with her depth and imagery that I feel that it adds to the ambiance of this book taking place in Shanghai, especially since it is in first person and we are in the head of a Chinese person. It seemed to add some authenticity to her strong story telling. However, her style means sometime there is awkward conversation or simple sentences, but that seems normal in Asian writing. They write how they speak. I just want to prepare readers so they go into the book will an idea of fully integrating into its entire aura. Her style is enchanting and absorbing and I did not want to put the book down, so I didn’t! I read through it as quickly as possible as Camilla pulled me along with her, compelling me to finish.
Now, I want to read Yip’s backlist as she’s proven herself a leader in Asian historical fiction. She has shown me with The Nine Fold Heaven that her imagination weaved with writing to preserve history we can learn from, and her window to social issues of the day, make her a writer that gives your mind an arm-chair escape, yet you will also end up finding your mind pondering life and human nature long after you close the page.
In this mesmerizing new novel, Mingmei Yip draw readers deeper into the exotic world of 1930s Shanghai first explored in Skeleton Women, and into the lives of the unforgettable Camilla, Shadow, and Rainbow Chang.
When Shadow, a gifted, ambitious magician, competed with the beautiful singer spy Camilla for the affections of organized crime leader Master Lung, she almost lost everything. Hiding out in Hong Kong, performing in a run-down circus, Shadow has no idea that Camilla, too, is on the run with her lover, Jinying – Lung’s son.
Yet while Camilla and Shadow were once enemies, now their only hope of freedom lies in joining forces to eliminate the ruthless gangster Big Brother Wang. Despite the danger, Shadow, Camilla, and Jinying return to Shanghai. Camilla also has her own secret agenda – she has heard a rumor that her baby son is alive. And in a city teeming with spies and rivals – including the vengeful gossip columnist Rainbow Chang – each battles for a future in a country on the verge of monumental change.
Book Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2g6Ggga4a0
Praise for The Nine Fold Heaven
A guilty pleasure….enjoy the exotic location and characters…. This is a large, luscious box of chocolates. Go on. You know you want to.” -RTBook 4 star Review, June 2012
Entertaining diversion is (a strength of this book) -Publisher’s Weekly
Poignant and often heartbreaking story captivatin mix of worldly and ethereal, mystery and drama kept me interested and kept me reading with her journal cum memoir style that few authors pull off. I loved how she incorporated in her narrative Chinese customs, legends, myths and beliefs and especially how she quoted from long ago texts on war and strategies, it was her characters that dominated the pages. –Bookclub.BarnesandNoble.com, June 1, 2012
What a phenomenal novel!! The characters are well-developed and the storyline is amazing and reads fast. So much is going on you won’t be able to put the book down and you’ll be turning the last page before you know it. I would highly recommend this novel to anyone. Great job Mingmei!!! -Bookbag Lady, June 13, 2012
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-nine-fold-heaven-mingmei-yip/1113946208?ean=9780758273543
Author Mingmei Yip, Biography~
When she was a child, Mingmei Yip made up stories like “how the moon reached to slap the sun” and “how the dim sum on my plate suddenly got up to tango.” At fifteen, she was thrilled that not only her article got published but she was paid ten dollars for it. Now Mingmei is a best-selling novelist and children’s book writer and illustrator.
Mingmei believes that one should, besides being entertained, also get something out of reading a novel. She has now twelve books to her credit, including five novels by Kensington Books: The Nine Fold Heaven, Skeleton Women, Song of the Silk Road, Petals from the Sky, and Peach Blossom Pavilion. Book Examiner praises her novels as “A unique and enthralling style…flawless.” Her two children’s books are Chinese Children’s Favorite Stories and Grandma Panda’s China Storybook, both by Tuttle Publishing.
Mingmei is accomplished in many other fields. A professional player of the Guqin, Chinese zither, for over thirty years, she was recently invited by Carnegie Hall to perform in “A Festival celebrating Chinese Culture” in the same program with cellist Yo Yo Ma and pianist Lang Lang. She had her solo Goddess exhibition at the New York Open Center Gallery to great acclaim, gave a calligraphy workshop at New York’s Metropolitain Museum of Art, and on Tai Chi at the International Women’s Writing Guild.
Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/theninefoldheaventour
Twitter Hashtag: #NineFoldHeavenTour
Book provided for review. All opinions are my own.