Liang, Diane Wei - 'The Eye of Jade'
THE EYE OF JADE is set in Beijing in the 1990s and introduces Wang Mei and her family. Mei has resigned from the Ministry for Public Security to set up her own illegal private investigation firm, assisted by a young man from the provinces.
Mei's immediate family consists of a successful sister, Lu, who is a tv star and has married well and their mother, an illustrator. Lu gave Mei her transport, a little red Mitsubishi.
An old family friend, Uncle Chen, hires Mei to find a Han Dynasty artefact which was thought destroyed. The recent appearance of a Han ceremonial bowl hints that there is a source of those antiques that escaped the destruction wrought at the time of the Cultural Revolution. Mei's investigation brings her to a truth that shakes the foundations of her own family.
I thoroughly enjoyed THE EYE OF JADE as it brings the reader directly into a fairly recent China, revealing how people live and work today as well as the turmoil of those families impacted by the Cultural Revolution. The author's affection for Beijing comes through and it feels more like a town than a city with more than ten million inhabitants.
The mystery side is a way of revealing Mei's and China's past and indeed the investigation hinges mainly on luck and coincidence to get the desired information and you never feel that Mei is in any danger in spite of the shady places and people she visits.
THE EYE OF JADE has been compared with the THE NO.1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY and I can see some similarities. Both authors write with a love for the country the books are set in, despite any faults. There is a cosy feel to each book and the importance of family and the kindness of strangers are important themes in both.
The author was born in Beijing and spent part of her childhood with her parents in a labour camp. An experience that is used in THE EYE of JADE. I look forward to the next book, PAPER BUTTERFLY which apparently touches on the demonstration in Tianamen Square, in which Diane Wei Lang herself took part.
Karen Meek, England
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