Bronze and Sunflower
Cao Wenxuan (Juvenile Historical Fiction)
Sunflower was lonely. Her father was a revered sculptor in the city, but he—like so many others—had been sent to work at the Cadre School and now Sunflower has very little to do all day. To pass the time, she goes down to the river and looks to the other side at the village called Damaidi. In Damaidi, there is life, there is activity, and most of all, there are children. She dreams of what it might be like to go over there and play and explore. Then one day, Sunflower’s dad tragically drowns in the river and she is accepted into the home of Damaidi’s poorest family. There she meets Baba, Mama, grandmother Nainai, and Bronze, their mute son. Suddenly, Sunflower is a daughter, a granddaughter, and a sister and life amongst these poor people was about to make her richer than she could ever imagine.
Translated from Mandarin by Helen Wang, Bronze and Sunflower is a masterpiece in storytelling. It tells the story of a family and a village caught up in China’s Cultural Revolution during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Wenxuan doesn’t make this period in history the center of his story, but instead chooses to keep it as a backdrop. He instead focuses on the unique and touching bond between Bronze and Sunflower and the family’s struggle to survive floods, locusts, famine, and dishonor. It’s a tale replete with villains and heroes, sadness and joy, and despair and hope. Wenxuan effortlessly weaves a tale showing us that life isn’t fair, that justice is often elusive, and that those in power—for better or worse—wield a mighty influence. But he also shows us the importance of family, the power of redemption, and the value of integrity. It’s a story absolutely brimming with moral lessons and human values and should be devoured by readers of all ages.
The only fault I had with this book is its ending. It’s vague (I re-read it several times to make sure I didn’t miss any subtle clue or hidden meaning) and puts the burden on the reader to determine what happened. I’m not a fan of this kind of ambiguous ending, but the overall story isn’t dependent upon it and so its vagueness shouldn’t serve as a detraction from an otherwise engaging and captivating tale that was an absolute joy to read and experience.
Without giving away any spoilers, the saddest part of the story—for me—was the eventuality of Bronze and Sunflower growing up…as children tend to do. The head of the village of Damaidi stated as much when he met with Baba and Mama and said, “Time’s moving on.” Simple words that remind us how fleeting and fragile time is and that everything should be cherished and savored for nothing is certain or guaranteed. With the sudden loss of her father, Sunflower understood the unpredictability of life and the value that came with belonging. Despite her poverty, Sunflower considered herself wealthy beyond measure because she was part of a family and that family loved her very much. Actor, author, and activist Michael J. Fox once said, “Family is not an important thing. It’s everything.” In that respect, Sunflower had everything and perhaps that made her the richest person in all of Damaidi.
*Book cover image attributed to www.abebooks.com