In Secret of a Thousand Beauties by Mingmei Yip, we are treated to an amazing array of ideas and customs that seem both unimaginable and indecipherable. The history and beauty of China in the “30s” is brought to life as we follow the life of Spring Swallow as she tries to find her way. Promised in marriage at birth, she is still forced to wed even after the death of her intended groom. Forced to become a ghost bride she escapes a fate of loneliness by running away. Taken in by a woman full of her own secrets, she joins a small group of embroiderers. Aunty Peony is talented in a way that defies her station, and while stingy with her methods she trains her students in the style of embroidery from her own youth.
Obedient but curious, Spring Swallow embarks on fact finding and looks for an understanding of her own life as well as those who have rescued her. In her duties she finds little time yet she yearns for understanding and finds escaping to the great outdoors soothes her soul, and writing her secrets on the rocks of her special mountain creates a sense of peace and control. When she finds notes written back she finds herself falling for the author of such verse, but is afraid.
What is the secret that Aunty Peony hides, and how does she have embroidery that may have belonged to the emperor? And who is the one she is coming to love that she only hears from in the stones from the mountain?
Yip has given us a behind-the-scenes look at the beauty of Chinese embroidery and a small look at the history of independence in an amazing tale of romance and loss. The characters jump out of the pages, and you find yourself along on the search for answers. There is a majesty in her descriptions, and there is danger and folly in the direction that some of her characters choose.
If you enjoy beauty and romance, as well as mystery and action,you will want to find the marvel of creativity located within the covers. The beauty of the work done by the characters is easy to visualize with the tiniest of stitches to the glory of color, which only adds to the mystique. There is humor, humility, sadness, danger and romance all tied together with the threads of embroidery. A marvelous rendering of years gone by.
This would be a great book for a reading group as well as a book club. There is a great deal of information and background to keep a discussion in full force.