One thing I absolutely cannot abide is unnecessary embellishment in autobiographical or true story works. When a relative is described as ‘strikingly attractive’, or ‘a stylish and commanding presence’ and then you flip to the photograph section in the middle of the book, expecting to see a Bridget Bardot lookalike, only to be visually assaulted by a photo of a woman who resembled Mick Jagger, as he is now, wearing a peroxided Myra Hindley-style wig. I find the addition and exaggeration of romanticism self-serving, indulgent and slightly pathetic – more a rent-a-cliché than a depiction of real events – Forged from Silver Dollar, however, contains none of the aforementioned, vomit-inducing literary devices. Written in very straight-forward, no-nonsense prose, this book charts the history of the matriarchs of a traditional Chinese family living through the tumultuous times of Chairman Mao’s rise and inevitable fall from power.
Focusing on the formidable and irrepressible wives, daughters and sisters, Li Feng maps the course of the family’s history over the course of four generations; from her great grandmother and the book’s namesake, Silver Dollar, sold into marriage at 12, to Ming Xiu; forced to adopt out her children after the execution of her husband by communist forces in 1951, to perhaps the most interesting character, Rong (Li’s mother), a powerful and intimidating force, whose motto – success demands two things; unconditional sacrifice and absolute mental focus – is the driving force of the latter half of the book. Rong, persecuted in Maoist China for being the offspring of a wealthy landlord and denied the university education she desperately craved, was determined that her daughter, Li, have the opportunities she never had, irrespective of becoming a Tiger Mum (a term which it would appear was invented solely for Rong) in the process.
The tension and drama evoked between Rong and Li makes this book engaging and very relatable. Even if you have no experience of living in a communist country (who of us does, really?) you are bound to have some experience of dealing with and living up to the expectations of a demanding mother or family member.
No glorification, no sweeping descriptions of landscapes you will never see, or made-up memories of the ‘scent’ of communism, just a very readable and informative story of powerful women overcoming and triumphing in the face of Red adversity.