Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Palest Ink, by Kay Bratt {ends 12/14}

Review by: Rachel Gonzales

“What if all your life you lived with the belief that you were special, then suddenly someone or something came and took it from you?”

Kay Bratt is a child advocate and the author of both fiction and nonfiction, including the acclaimed memoir of her own childhood and the years she spent working in Chinese orphanages, Silent Tears: A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage. She has actively volunteered for nonprofit organizations who work to assist and protect orphaned, abused, and neglected children. She lived in China for several years and now lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains with her family.

Official synopsis:
A sheltered son from an intellectual family in Shanghai, Benfu spends 1966 anticipating a promising violinist career and an arranged marriage. On the other side of town, lives Pony Boy, a member of a lower-class family - Benfu’s best friend all the same. The futures look different but guaranteed … until they’re faced with a perilous opportunity to leave a mark on history.

At the announcement of China’s Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao’s Red Guard members begin their assault, leaving innocent victims in their wake as they surge across the country. With political turmoil at their door, both Benfu and Pony Boy must face heart-wrenching decisions regarding family, friendship, courage, and loyalty to their country during one of the most chaotic periods in history.

The prequel to the beloved Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters series, The Palest Ink depicts Benfu’s coming-of-age during the tumultuous years of the Cultural Revolution.

Okay, truth-telling time: This is approximately the eighth different sentence that I have used to start this review. Every time I get to around [thispoint], I end up erasing and rewriting what I’ve already done. Honestly, I don’t feel I can do justice to this novel, because there is just so much to unpack here. Before I undo and rewrite again, the short version is that I really, really liked this book, but I am not sure entirely why. It’s beautifully written, which helps, but there’s just so much happening, and it’s all so overwhelming. Which is kind of the point, I suppose, since The Palest Ink is a story about so much happening, and people getting overwhelmed by it all.

I didn’t know much about the Cultural Revolution in China of the late 1960s before reading this book. Partly, it’s because it happened literally before my time; it started in 1966, before I was born, and it ended in 1976, when I was two years old and Americans were busy not paying attention to much that was happening outside of our own Bicentennial. After reading of the chaos and violence and unimaginable upheaval that tore China apart in the interest of bringing the country closer together, I partly want to get my hands on everything I can about this time and place - and at the same time, I’m not sure how much of history repeating itself I can take.

There are many similarities between The Palest Ink and classic works of literature set in times of revolution (both A Tale of Two Cities and Les Misérables come to mind). Questions of class and privilege, of want and necessity, of duty and honor are all raised, and as you might expect, there are no simple answers. Time and experience change people, but the journeys - while often difficult - are rewarding. There is quite a lot of action and movement in this book, but those moments of quiet, however rare and brief, are lovely and sumptuous.

And the ending? Well, it’s infuriating, but not for the reasons that usually infuriate me. This ending makes perfect sense, and that’s precisely the problem. I found myself so engaged and invested in Benfu and Pony Boy that I had to walk away from the book for a little while, just before the end, just to spare my heart a little bit of ache. And I wonder how many times the author started and restarted this book before she realized that the ending, so infuriating, was also so inevitable and unavoidable.

4 out of 5 stars.
{Click here to purchase}

About the reviewer:

Rachel Gonzales is a wife, mom, theatre geek, and substitute high school teacher (not necessarily in that order) from Pennsylvania. She reads anything and everything, including bizarro comic books that she finds on dusty old shelves in the back of the toy store near the mogwai. Her favorite color is purple and her favorite punctuation mark is the Oxford comma.


TWO lucky readers will win a hardcover copy of The Palest Ink.

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, December 14th at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified via email the next day and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

The Palest Ink hardcovers


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