"The Moon Pearl" (Beacon Press, 316 pages, $24) by Ruthanne Lum McCunn is a charming novel with characters that are well-drawn and sympathetic.
More important, it provides a rare view of the difficulties and liberation from cultural expectations young women experienced in southern China in the 1830s.
The book shows how marriages were arranged, and how women were isolated from their birth families and then expected to be compliant daughters-in-law. It emphasizes that these women were considered worthless and were frequently abused by both their birth families and marriage families.
In the story, three young women observe the horrors visited on married women and take vows of spinsterhood. McCunn tells how they managed these vows, about their hopes and fears, about their financial and emotional difficulties, and how hard it was for them to reconcile with their families.
It demonstrates how cruel neighbors can be to those who deviate from the established social order.
By novel's end, the human spirit triumphs, and the three spinsters slowly gain financial independence and respect from the community.
The women in the story are based on people interviewed by McCunn, whose research is extraordinary.
This is an important book that depicts a largely unknown chapter in the history of Chinese women.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.