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Review: Song of the Silk Road by Mingmei Yip


song of the silk road mingmei yip Review: Song of the Silk Road by Mingmei Yip

Despite her frank, pragmatic outward persona, would-be novelist Lily Lin is a romantic at heart. Tales of her childhood homeland have always captivated her, and she has always held a certain nostalgia for the famed 'Silk Road. So when Lily receives an offer from a mysterious benefactor that will see her inheriting three million dollars in exchange for travelling the Silk Roadand undertaking a few admittedly odd tasks besides, she scarcely hesitates before booking her ticket. In China she finds herself a world away from her domineering married boyfriend and her minimum wage job: instead she finds herself caught up in the nuances of life in, for the most part, rural China. Her trip takes her to remote Buddhist temples, to Uyghur settlements, and through exquisite, challenging landscapes. And of course, Lily finds herself falling in love

My thoughts

Books in which the protagonist finds themselves on the receiving end of a life-changing sum of money abound. Theres Patricia Woods Lottery,'Inheritance by Nicholas Shakespeare (see our review), and Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Its a trope that abounds film and TV (ah, poor Homer Simpson and his elusive millions), perhaps in part because theres something utterly life-changing about the promise of such huge sums of cash. Money is something that has the potential to change both the how and the why that we live, and its impact can be immense. Curiously, the financial aspect of Lilys journey is scarcely touched upon throughout the novel. Of her promised three million, she receives fifty thousand up front, and its this that she uses during her travels throughout China. Given that even this sum is exorbitant in rural China, theres never any real sense of need. In fact, despite the fact that Lily asserts that shes financially motivated, we really only see this towards the end of the novel, when she meets her benefactor. Lilys journey, rather, seems to be more motivated by the desire to escape from the rather desultory living situation in which shes found herself.

But Lilys efforts to escape from her rather vile partner and lead an unencumbered life throughout her travels, she quickly finds herself courted by a young man intent on playing a rather significant role in her lifeindeed, this 21-year-old lad drops the marriage bomb within a day or so of meeting Lily. His infatuation is so over-the-top that I couldnt help but wonder whether he himself had a similar quest to Lilys (this doesnt turn out to be the case). Its a sweet relationship for the most part, despite its oddly stalkerish beginnings, but theres such a sense of convenience to it that I felt myself struggling to believe it. This element of the book in my mind runs counterpart to the love story in Xinrans Sky Burial, in which a widow searches endlessly for her lost husband in Tibet.

Yip takes us through a fascinating array of cultures and scenery, and the narrative is liberally peppered with all manner of anthropological and ethnographic delights: religious customs, herbal healing, philosophy and ideology, and more. Oddly, these elements are far more enticing than the actual narrative itself, which reads like a poorly plotted road trip novel slotted into an exotic milieu. Lilys trip, despite requiring her to spend several years in China, only contains three or four actions that she must undertake in order as part of her benefactors mission, and all of these seem extraneous to the actual themes of the novel self-discovery. These tasks feel almost as though they have been stitched into the novel as an afterthought, and dont quite sit neatly against the wider tapestry of the novel. While some of them result in some amusement for the reader, others simply feel like devices to get Lily on her way.

This is in part because of the particular stylistic approach of the novel. Song of the Silk Road is not a translation, but its style is certainly far from that found in a typical western novel. Theres a bluntness and matter-of-factness that Ive come across in other Chinese novels (and indeed in the Buddhist texts and stories that my Chinese boyfriend occasionally passes my way) that is occasionally jarring to the western ear, and the narrative asides occasionally result in textual bloating. This narrative style also affects our ability to empathise with Lily: heavily self-critical and exceedingly honest in her intentions and goals, she comes across as distinctly unlikeable, and honestly if it werent for some of the other characters with whom she interacts along the way, I think I would have struggled to get through some parts of this book.

Moreover, while the Silk Road aspects of the book offer up some truly fascinating insights and experiences, things get messy when Lily returns to New York, and the remainder of the book turns into blatant wish fulfilment and authorial insertion. Its just so neat and tidy, and while I do understand that Lily gets what she deserves (albeit in rather a different manner from how she imagined she might), I cant help but feel that the last few chapters of the novel might have benefited from taking a slightly different turn of events. This is a personal taste issue, of course, but theres a certain nyah nyah! to these final chapters that feels awkward to the reader.


If youre a lover of international literature and you have a yen for travel, then Song of the Silk Road may be something that you enjoy. Despite its slightly wonky narrative and its rather frustrating series of plot coincidences, it brims with cultural insights and explications, and I dont doubt that many a reader will take something from this novel. If you put yourself in the mindset of a romance reader rather than a mystery or literary reader, youll find plenty here to like.

Rating: star Review: Song of the Silk Road by Mingmei Yipstar Review: Song of the Silk Road by Mingmei Yipstar Review: Song of the Silk Road by Mingmei Yipblankstar Review: Song of the Silk Road by Mingmei Yipblankstar Review: Song of the Silk Road by Mingmei Yip ( good)

With thanks to Meryl L Moss Media Relations for the review copy

Purchase Song of the Silk Road from Amazon | Book Depository UK | Book Depository USA

Other books by Mingmei Yip

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