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Book Review: Under The Hawthorn Tree by Ai Mi

Title: Under The Hawthorn Tree
Author: Ai Mi
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: House of Anansi Press (January 1st 2011)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Read: Paperback
Stars: ***/5
Buy On: Amazon
Summary: (Goodreads)
Yichang municipality, Hubei province, China, early 1970s. High-school student Jingqiu is one of many educated urban youth sent to the countryside to be “re-educated” under a dictate from Chairman Mao. Jing’s father is a political prisoner somewhere in China, and her mother, a former teacher branded as a “capitalist,” is now reduced to menial work to support Jing and her two younger siblings.

When Jing arrives with a group at Xiping village in the Yangtze River’s Three Gorges region, she meets geology student Jianxin, nicknamed “Old Three,” who is the son of a high-ranking military officer, but whose mother committed suicide after being branded a “rightist.” Despite their disparate social backgrounds and a political atmosphere that forbids the relationship, Jingqiu and Jianxin fall desperately in love. But their budding romance is cut short by fate…

My Review:


Cover: The book I got had a cute still from the movie. Not great but not so bad either.

Paper and font: Ivory and Ebony! :)

Readability, language: : The language is simple but it’s an easier read if you know some of the history of China.

Why did I choose this book: I impulsively picked this up at the library since the book has been a sensation in China since 2007 when Ai Mi shared it on her website and is now even a movie.

Set during the Cultural Revolution in China this is a quaint love story of Jingqui a poor city girl. Jingqui is selected along with a small group of students to go to the countryside for an educational project. The students live the rural life and interact with the farmers while writing stories that will become a part of the education system to further the cultural revolution.

Jingqui who comes from a politically questionable family knows she must be careful about what she says, writes and does to stay safe politically. Her life is already mapped out for her; after her schooling she will be sent to work in the fields somewhere in rural China where she will get a meagre wage. Love isn’t on the cards for her but fall in love she does with Sun Jianxin, the son of an army general.

Sun Jianxin or Old Third is an intelligent and kind boy but way out of Jingqui’s league. And there starts Jingqui’s lessons in love. A naive girl Jingqui has feelings for Old Third that she doesn’t understand. She struggles with her emotions and tries hard to avoid slipping. Her mother has always told her that one slip could cause much harm but Jingqui doesn’t know what her mother means by a slip. As her relationship with Old Third progresses, so does her internal struggles as she tries to figure out if she has slipped.

Completing her stint at the village Jingqui returns to the city and her life where she hopes time will help her forget Old Third but she finds that she cannot. And when Old Third starts to visit her in the city, her love is rekindled. She embarks on the journey of love, learning to accept and embrace it while discovering the meaning of true love.

Being ignorant as I’m about world history, Under the Hawthorn Tree took me a long time to read. Initially I found the story difficult to understand and it took me a while to grasp the history and setting of the book. It would have helped I think if I knew a little of China’s history before I read the book.

The characters are easy to associate with and feel for though. Jingqui’s naiveness brought a smile to my face as she struggles with her heart. Old Third’s love makes for the magic in love stories. The big heartedness of people who shared what little they had was touching. The societal structure of China in the 60’s and 70’s was an eye-opener.

Overall a simple love story, Under the Hawthorn Tree was an education in the lives of the people of China and their trials and struggles during the Cultural Revolution.

I did enjoy reading this book even though I had to push myself sometimes to read on. If you like touching love stories or have an interest in the history of China this is a book to read.

Buy On: Amazon

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