Book review: Bronze and Sunflower, by Cao Wenxuan, illustrated by Meilo So, translated by Helen Wang

Cao, Wenxuan. Bronze and Sunflower. Illus. by Meilo So. Trans. Helen Wang. Candlewick, 2017. $16.99. 386p. ISBN 978-0-7636-8816-5. Ages 9-14. P7Q9

The Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s creates the setting for this story of an impoverished rural family. Bronze, their beloved son who has been mute since a traumatizing fire, develops a bond with Sunflower, the seven-year-old child of a renowned artist sent to be politically “reformed” at the Cadre School, a labor camp. When the father drowns, Bronze’s family adopts the young child despite the struggle to even find food for her, and the two young people become inseparable. Sunflower develops from a lonely child to a member of a close-knit family as she learns her chores of catching fish, picking wild plants, and even helping the family rebuild their home after a storm. A leading character is Naimai, the grandmother who provides guidance for the entire family.

Verdict: Cao draws vivid pictures of life during that time and the devotion of family members to each other as they sacrifice to make life better for the child they have adopted. Far different from Western culture, the protagonists exhibit the ways that challenges are overcome by filial piety and society above self of the Confucian philosophy.

April 2017 review by Nel Ward.


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