I’m really excited to be hosting my first book blog tour. I’ll be reviewing The Dancing Girl and the Turtle by Karen Kao. If this sounds like something you’ll enjoy then do check out the previous blog stops, and follow others coming soon.
About the book
The Dancing Girl and the Turtle (Shanghai Quartet 1) – Karen Kao
Published by Linen Press in paperback and ebook on 1 April 2017
A rape. A war. A society where women are bought and sold but no one can speak of shame. Shanghai 1937. The courtesan culture. Violence throbs at the heart of The Dancing Girl and the Turtle.
Song Anyi is on the road to Shanghai and freedom when she is raped and left for dead. The silence and shame that mark her courageous survival drive her to escalating self-harm and prostitution. From opium dens to high-class brothels, Anyi dances on the edge of destruction while China and Japan go to war. Hers is the voice of every woman who fights for independence against overwhelming odds.
The Dancing Girl and the Turtle is one of four interlocking novels set between 1929 and 1954, The Shanghai Quartet, which span a tumultuous time in Chinese history.
This harrowing and intense story follows Song Anyi. After her parents die she waits in her house for her Uncle and Aunty to arrive. But when weeks pass and they don’t come, she sets out on a journey to their home, and on the way is horrifically gang-raped and left to die. Until a passerby recognises her and helps her.
While she recovers in her Uncle’s home, her Aunt tries to dispose of her by quickly trying to find a suitor and marrying her off. Its through a blind masseuse that Anyi discovers the world of prostitution and BDSM, and becomes a dancing girl.
Set against the backdrop of 1930s Shanghai the story is told from multiple POVs, including: Anyi’s cousin, Cho; her brother, Kang; housemaids, Blossom and Nian; and Tanizaki, a Japanese who complicates the story with his political agendas.
This was a difficult and at times frustrating read, seeing Anyi plunge into a violent cycle of addiction, because your heart just aches for this 18-year old. Through this story I was transported into a culture and a period I’m not familiar with, and I enjoyed how pacy it was, too. The chapters are quite short, flicking from one character to another. I enjoyed the vivid cast of characters, particularly the POVs of Blossom and Nian. The tension between race (there is a black character, too) and class, as well gender was fascinating. There’s so many layers packed into this short novel.
About the author
Karen Kao is the child of Chinese immigrants who settled in the US in the 1950s. Her debut novel has been praised by critics from London to Hong Kong for its accurate portrayal of the oppression experienced by women in 1930s Shanghai.