Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan focuses on the special bond between two children (one mute, one orphaned) during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. Sent to the countryside by the government Sunflower’s father learns to farm the land with other city dwellers. Following the loss of her father, Sunflower declines the offer to be adopted by the wealthiest family in the village, and accepts that of the poorest family. Though the parents and grandmother dote on Sunflower, it is Bronze who uses his strength and ingenuity to make Sunflower’s life as comfortable as possible.
The novel’s structure is a series of vignettes. The story moves forward via the forces of hardship and generosity. Hardships abound: hunger, infestations, bitter cold. Generosity through self-sacrifice is demonstrated by many of Bronze’s actions. For instance, when the decision for who will go to school arrives, (because school is not free and they are poor), Bronze devises a scheme resembling the drawing of straws which he rigs so that Sunflower will win, no matter what. In return, Sunflower helps Bronze who is ashamed by his illiteracy learn to read and write.
My pleasure from this book derives from my desire to experience other cultures. Since foreign languages are alluring to me, the fact that the author included some Chinese characters with their meanings as part of the novel was an added reward. At the end of the book, the author included a Historical Note about the Cultural Revolution to help the reader better understand the setting.
It is the details that create pictures in the mind, and the translation of this children’s book from Chinese has been able to capture the essence of rural life in the Cultural Revolution. The poverty, the harrowing plight of losing all (including your home) and the enduring strength and unselfishness of family loyalty. The pace is leisurely, but that’s refreshing as we watch the two children, Bronze and Sunflower grow. The reader is introduced to cultural differences such as the respect given to the elderly, and the importance of education.
dianerosenberger thinks this title is suitable for 11 years and over
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