Thank you to Libro.FM for the #gifted audiobook of Four Treasures of the Sky by Jenny Tinghui Zhang, in exchange for an honest review. #partner
You know I love an amazing debut novel and I have one for you today that is topping my list for 2022. Four Treasures of the Sky by Jenny Tinghui Zhang is everything I love in a debut novel. It is heartbreaking, endearing, educational and a true work of art. Set in the late 1800s, spanning two continents and covering a dark piece of US history that has been buried, I was speechless and spellbound. The audio is perfection and the narrator brought the main character, Daiyu, to life. I cannot sing enough praise about this book. It is an absolute must read.
Daiyu is from a small fishing village outside of Zhifu, China. She comes home one day to find that her parents are missing. Her grandmother tells her she must hide herself and escape. Disguised as a young boy, 12 year old Daiyu disappears into the belly of a city where she meets a calligraphy teacher who takes her in. From here, she ends up being kidnapped and trafficked to San Francisco in a coal bin, where she is sold to a brothel. Daiyu struggles to escape the confines that have placed her in the US and yearns to get back to China to search for her parents. Her journey takes place across the US during a time when Chinese immigrants are in danger due to the Chinese Exclusion Act.
Four Treasures of the Sky is a heartbreaking coming-of-age historical novel about an appalling piece of history that is not well known and one you most likely never learned in history class. I was truly speechless as I listened to this audiobook. It left me in tears and let me tell you, it takes a lot for me to cry. I had never heard of the Chinese Exclusion Act until this book and that was the main selling point for me because I wanted to learn more. It is eye opening and heartbreaking to realize that much of what occurred in the late 1880s, regarding hate, violence and racism towards Asian people is still happening in 2022.
Daiyu is wise beyond her years, resourceful, tough, but also an innocent child. At the tender age of 12, she suddenly loses her parents and is forced to escape to an unknown city and hide her identity. The amount of fear that she felt had to be immense. Not knowing where her next meal would come from, where she could safely sleep that evening, or how to survive day to day. Daiyu is a child and this becomes evident when she finds herself a victim of human sex trafficking. She is forced into a barrel of coal where she hides aboard a ship that brings her to a brothel in San Francisco. From here, she escapes to a Idaho, where she continues to disguise herself as a young boy. The places she travels between these pages is incredible for a debut novel and shows so much literary talent.
I highly recommend taking the time to read the Author's Note. Zhang shares what inspired the story and her own thoughts about racism towards Asian people and Asian Americans, both during the time of the Chinese Exclusion Act and present day. The elements of Daiyu's story that involved her hiding her identity and assimilating to another culture in order to survive is one that still rings true today for many BIPOC. I love when an author explains what inspired them to write their novel. Zhang also covers this in the recent Book Page edition (I picked one up at my local public library) that features a cover story on Four Treasures of the Sky .