Algonkian Writers Conference Assignments
Story statement: Miaoyi Yu demands to live life on her own terms and fights a war to save the soul of China.
The antagonist, Liu Bang, grows up as best friend to the protagonist’s childhood friend and later husband, Xiang Ji. Both are sons to powerful warlords, Bang from Han and Ji from Chu. But Bang is a cruel misogynist who wants to control everyone and everything. He even asks Yu to be one of his concubines. She turns him down but accepting is her great friend, as well as the most tender and tragic figure in the book, Li Luli. He proceeds to manipulate and terrorize Luli, turning a once loving and kind woman into a broken and obedient slave. He stands for everything Yu fights against. The three friends will end up fighting to win control of China, Yu and Ji against Bang. With the war lost and staring in the face of a China directed by men such as Bang, Yu will make her most difficult choice. And the fate of China, then and now, hangs in the balance.
Breakout Titles: Surrounded By Chu Songs; The Soul of China; Mandate.
Two comparable novels: Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee, and The Good Earth, by Pearl Buck.
Hookline: A poor young peasant woman, born into a misogynistic world controlled by the rich and powerful, fights to live life on her own terms and win the war for the soul of China.
Inner turmoil: Miaoyi Yu is in love with her friend, Xiang Ji. But she also demands to live life on her own terms. He is forced to marry a woman--Xi Shi--who is the daughter of another powerful warlord. So he asks Yu to be his concubine. This puts all of her feelings into conflict. Adding to it all, her parents are poor and dependent on Ji’s dad for support. One day, the person they will count on will be Ji. Still, Yu chooses her own self-worth over her intense love for Ji and all other considerations, not least of all is a life of poverty and loneliness.
Social Conflict: Yu and Ji do become a couple and take a quasi-honeymoon through the Seven States to see the flora and fauna. Towards the end they stop at a small town controlled by the owner of the only business, a slaughterhouse. The working conditions are sub-human and the workers little more than economic slaves. Yu and Ji decide they must save the town and set off to do so. By the end of their efforts, we get a vision of how China would be run if they were to win the coming war.
Setting: The book is set in the ancient Chinese state of Chu, and the primary location is a secret, idyllic garden behind the warlord’s large home and that of a family of his servants, the Miaoyis. There, Yu and Ji meet for the first time, grow up together, talk about philosophy, practice fighting, and fall in love. Another large portion of the book is set inside the warlord’s home, where Yu is a servant. She meets her great friend, Luli, who goes on to be the most tragic figure in the book. She also meets the Chef, who provides the comedy relief. It is also there that Bang asks Yu to be one of his concubines. But she is also always under the watchful eyes of Madame Furen, Yu’s school teacher, and a mysterious figure whose motivations and loyalties are unclear. The two take a trip through China during which they encounter tigers and dugongs and lie by a lake watching a mother panda feed her cub. During the trip, they visit a canyon that Ji visited as a child. This canyon is where the final scene takes place, deep inside a snowstorm.