From the author of Three Souls comes a vividly imagined and haunting new novel set in early 20th century Shanghai—a story of friendship, heartbreak, and history that follows a young Eurasian orphan’s search for her long-lost mother. That night I dreamed that I had wandered out to Dragon Springs Road all on my own, when a dreadful knowledge seized me that my mother had gone away never to return . . .
In 1908, Jialing is only seven years old when she is abandoned in the courtyard of a once-lavish estate outside Shanghai. Jialing is zazhong—Eurasian—and faces a lifetime of contempt from both Chinese and Europeans. Until now she’s led a secluded life behind courtyard walls, but without her mother’s protection, she can survive only if the estate’s new owners, the Yang family, agree to take her in.
Jialing finds allies in Anjuin, the eldest Yang daughter, and Fox, an animal spirit who has lived in the courtyard for centuries. But Jialing’s life as the Yangs’ bondservant changes unexpectedly when she befriends a young English girl who then mysteriously vanishes.
Murder, political intrigue, jealousy, forbidden love … Jialing confronts them all as she grows into womanhood during the tumultuous early years of the Chinese republic, always hopeful of finding her long-lost mother. Through every turn she is guided, both by Fox and by her own strength of spirit, away from the shadows of her past toward a very different fate, if she has the courage to accept it.
Woven with a remarkable level of imaginative folklore, blended into the reality of this coming-of-age story, I think Dragon Springs Road is the type of book most readers will fall in love with. The scope of this novel was so intricate and in depth but the author never let the story get away from the reader. The steady pace of the narrative that is driven by this slight bread-crumb-of-secrets trail that the main character, Jialing, follows over the years and the mystical presence of a sly, influential and secretive Fox spirit is sure to hook any reader, as it did me.
One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was the mystery of Dragon Springs Road on a broader scale. I teetered back and forth with skepticism on whether or not the unfortunate and troubling events that take place on this stretch of road were the result of a supernatural force—perhaps a curse—or simply the rippling affects of the Chinese Civil War (and the external affects of WWI) and the increasing level of foreign/European culture influences.
In the center of all this, Jialing spends most of her young life and young adulthood as a bond servant to the Yang family. While enduring not only the troubling uncertainly of her mother’s whereabouts and the security of solid future, but the constant ridicule, racial prejudice and shame from nearly everyone she encounters because she is a biracial—a zazhong—child.
Despite all of this, Jialing woks hard to build a life for herself with the protection and guidance of Fox whom in many ways fills the void left my her mother. Her character grows into a very smart and capable young woman with dreams of not only being independent but self reliant.
It was troubling at times to read how passionate Jialing was about finding work and supporting herself without ever falling into the common position for women in that era whom were forced (sold to or in need of money, shelter, a means of living) into brothels and for those around her, even those close to her not ever seeing it as a possibility.
What’s more, deeming it a result of her “foreign teaching,” as if the idea of women ever being seen or treated equal were this innately impossible idea. Consequently, one of the most interesting aspects about this story is the way in which the author parallels and blends parts of Jialing’s mother’s past and with tales of women from Fox’s stories into Jialing’s life.
I think on top of everything else, the reader will appreciate the bittersweet way that the author brings everything full circle at the Western residence on Dragon Springs Road and the manner in which Jialing is finally able to retake control of her life and break free of the complicated strings that have clung to her all her life. I think fans of detailed and creative historical fiction novels will love this book. I would also recommend it to all readers who enjoy emerging themselves in richly subtle yet thrilling content with strong female characters.
Born in Taiwan, Janie Chang spent part of her childhood in the Philippines, Iran, and Thailand. She has a degree in computer science and is a graduate of the Writer’s Studio Program at Simon Fraser University. She is the author of Three Souls.
This was the first book I read by Janie Chang but I’ve already added her other book Three Souls to my TBR. Thanks so much for stopping by. I hope you check out Dragon Springs Road for your self ^-^
Until the next post,