As I’ve mentioned before I love my two book clubs because they introduce me to books I’ve not heard of. Today I’m discussing The Girl Who Wrote In Silk by Kelli Estes, a USA Today bestseller, and I can see why it is.
The book combines the story of a Chinese girl in the late 1800s and a girl from modern times. The prologue starts with Mei Lien on a ship in Puget Sound leaving Seattle and she is thrown overboard.
Chapter one has us meeting Inara Erickson on a ferry with her sister heading for Orcas island where she and her family spent summers at their Aunt Dahlia’s home. Aunt Dahlia had recently died and left her home to Inara.
As she and her sister are exploring the house, Inara finds a piece of fabric hidden in the house that is an elaborately stitched sleeve that tells a story with pictures.
Against her father’s wishes, Inara wants to live on the island and turn the larger part of the house into a boutique hotel. He humors her at first giving her a loan to start fixing it up figuring she’ll change her mind and then she could sell it at a greater profit.
However, after finding the silk sleeve with the pictures, she contacts a professor at a Seattle university, who has a Chinese background and teaches Chinese history. He’s fascinated by it, and together they try to research and find out who was the Chinese woman who embroidered this beautiful piece of work.
Inara (and through this book) we find out the horrors the Chinese immigrants faced in the 1800s not only in Seattle, but in the western states.
In a conversation written with the author of this debut novel, she said that in 2002 she was researching the history of the San Juan Islands for a historical romance when she discovered a smuggler, who rather than get caught with his illegal cargo of Chinese immigrants in the 1900s chose to bash them over their heads and throw them overboard. From reading that story grew the story of Mei Lien and on to the connection Inara had through her family ancestors.
It is a powerful book, and although I’d heard the Chinese were looked down on in the past and not treated well, I had no idea of the horrors they faced. The story was both tragic at times and touching, too. Mei Lien is rescued and the man who rescues her keeps her hidden from others on the island because he knows what could happen to her if she is found. I don’t want to give too many details so all I can say is that it’s a book I highly recommend. When this blog is up, I’ll be attending the book club where it will be discussed. I’ve heard from a few who already read it how much they liked it, and I’m sure tonight it will be a very interesting discussion.
How much did you know about how the Chinese immigrants were treated in the 1800s?