Pan Macmillan Australia. This edition published March
Reviewed by Sunnie Gill
Mei Wang is a product of the new China. She works for herself running an
“information consultancy” (private detective agencies are illegal, after
Mei is hired by a record company executive to find one of their new
up-and-coming singing stars. Kaili hasn’t been seen since her last live
concert. She just disappeared from her dressing room. The company want her
disappearance kept quiet.
Mei’s initial reaction is to think that this spoilt diva has checked into
a spa or a rehab clinic. A search of Kaili’s surprisingly modest apartment
reveals a young woman with much more depth. Hidden away, Mei finds a
delicate paper butterfly and a number of love letters written in June,
1989 from a politically active student.
Mei’s search takes her from the superficial glitz and glamour of
modern-day Beijing to the poorly-lit back alleys where elderly residents
still keep alive old superstitions and beliefs.
The author, Diane Wei Liang, was born in China where she spent her early
childhood years with her parents in a labour camp in a remote region of
China. She was also involved in the student democracy movement in the
1980s and was one of those in Tiananmen Square in that fateful month of
June, 1989. This personal experience shines through in the book in the
creation of characters and account of life in China.
What I found particularly vivid was the importance of food in China.
Nearly every meal is described; many of them mouth-wateringly delicious.
One or two sounded awful (boiled tripe in chilli broth, anyone?).
There are three significant events alluded to in THE PAPER BUTTERFLY, the
impact of which are quite startling. The Great Leap forward in the late
1950s drastically changed the lives of nearly everyone in China. The 1960s
saw the Cultural Revolution, with destruction of historical sites, the
outlawing of many traditional cultural practices and the displacement and
deaths of millions. It was an ugly time and those events had long-reaching
effects. And finally, Tiananmen Square, which forced the Chinese to
realise that there were going to be limits to the new-found freedoms that
had been granted to them.
The main theme of THE PAPER BUTTERFLY is how these events impacted on
individuals. The mystery is merely a means to an end. I learned a lot
about China, its history and people reading this book. It also serves as a
powerful reminder not to judge the people of a country by the actions of
May 2008 review originally posted on Murder and Mayhem
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