Sep 03

My Review of Threads of Silk

I had the pleasure of reading (and listening) and reviewing to Amanda Roberts’ Threads of Silk, a historical fiction which takes place at the end of the Qing Dynasty. I actually didn’t know what it was about before I started, but the cover suggested 1800s China, so I delved right in.

As a reader, I thoroughly enjoyed the engaging storytelling in Threads of Silk. As someone who appreciates history, my enjoyment was tempered by a mostly one-sided, positive view of a generally reviled historical figure.

Told through the eyes of fictional Yang Yaqian, the story covers the turbulent end of China’s Qing Dynasty. From the research into everything from embroidery to cultural customs to history, the author weaves Yaqian’s personal joys and tribulations, into key events of the mid-to-late 19the century. She’s stubborn and courageous, smart and dutiful. Her innocence and humble origins, as well as her collection of mementos from her important relationships, make her relatable as she rises to palace embroiderer for Empress Cixi. The tying of all those threads made for a satisfying end.

If I were to judge solely on the merits of storytelling, Threads of Silk would be a hands-down 5+ stars. However, as historical fiction, historical inaccuracies can’t be ignored. The First Sino-Japanese war is off by a year. The United States is noted as China’s ally, without mention of the Unequal Treaties. The Chinese Exclusion Act is interpreted as a blanket ban. Yaqian is amazed by the British’s multi-story homes, when there were already many in China.

Yet these are issues which can be rationalized by Yaqian’s narrative point of view. More concerning to me is the glowing light in which Empress Cixi is portrayed. Though I am willing to accept that history, as written by men, is probably unfair in its absolute vilification of the empress, a complete opposite account made me scratch my head. All the praise Cixi receives in Threads of Silk is hard to rationalize with the marble boat, built with funds earmarked for the Chinese Navy, still sitting in the Summer Palace. I have reached out to the author, who has recommended a recent biography by Jung Chang.

As of now, I am giving the story a 4.5, with the potential to raise it to 5.

NOTE: I also had the pleasure of listening to the audiobook, narrated by Leanne Yau. At first, I was surprised with the British accent used for a Chinese story, but her voice is so soothing, and she captures the emotion so well. I highly recommend it!


About Amanda Roberts

Amanda Roberts is a writer and editor who has been living in China since 2010. Amanda has an MA in English from the University of Central Missouri. She has been published in magazines, newspapers, and anthologies around the world and she regularly contributes to numerous blogs. Amanda can be found all over the Internet, but her home is TwoAmericansinChina.com.

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