I don’t imagine there will be many books in the lifetime of this blog that instead of providing a thorough review, I simply say just read it. However, Xinran’s Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother is one of those books. It has left me heartbroken, tearful and feeling completely helpless. But there’s also purity and raw feeling in each of the short stories that keeps you turning the pages.
The book is a collection of stories from Chinese mothers—students, successful businesswomen, midwives, peasants—who, whether as a consequence of the single-child policy, destructive age-old traditions, or hideous economic necessity, have given up their daughters. Their stories are confronting and horrific. Here are just a few snippets –
“There is an emptiness that can never be filled, there is an ache felt by the broken-hearted birth mother, by the adoptive family in the West, and by the daughter who will spend the rest of her life in a dual embrace – because the life she lives is a product of great joy but also of great sorrow.”
“…a woman was like a pebble worn smooth and round by water and time. Our outward appearance was changed by the fate meted out to us in our lives, but no water could alter the heart of the woman and her maternal instincts.”
“Any woman who’s had a baby has felt pain, and the mothers of girls are all heartsick too!”
“She cries almost every night, and says she’s been dreaming about the girls. We work hard all day, we don’t have time to dream!”
“There were all sorts of little tokens! Even words. A few mothers had written long, heartbreaking letters on the baby’s clothing. Others had embroidered things, or sewn some little Xs on the cloth. The poorest would make a fingerprint in blood! Some babies looked as if they’d come with nothing – until you look closely at a little fingernail and saw there was a cross or an X on it.”
“Chinese women are the most unselfish in the world. They’ll do anything for their husbands and children, suffer any pain, shed their own blood and tears to look after them! The one thing that comforts them is that one day their daughters may understand that their mothers loved them, and that they paid for that love with an endless stream of bitter tears!”
5/5 Exceptional, heartbreaking, unforgettable.
There are many references to food in this book – strange things I’ve never heard of, meals scraped together by peasants (flour-paste soup, plain rice, yam pancakes, salted fish) but the common denominator is tea, always tea. Although I don’t ordinarily drink tea or coffee, I do love Chinese tea – enjoy these marvelous Chinese Marbled Tea Eggs.