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May 5, 2023

Where Waters Meet by Zhang Ling ~ a Review

by MK French

Phoenix Yuan-Whyller’s mother Rain always lived with her, even moving to Toronto with her when she married. Rain’s unexpected death at age 83 brings incredible grief. Inside the suitcase her mother used as a memory box, Phoenix finds items that auntie Mei will only explain in person. Taking the items and her mother’s ashes, Phoenix boards a plane for China. What at first seems like a daughter’s quest to uncover a mother’s secrets becomes a startling journey of self-discovery.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

book cover of historical fiction novel Where Waters Meet by Zhang Ling
May 2023; Amazon Crossing; 978-1662510380
audio, ebook, print (284 pages); historical fiction

Rain lived through war, oppression, and incredible misery. The time period was a chaotic one for China, with a world war at play, Hong Kong and Shanghai separating from mainland China, and social upheaval that to some extent still goes on. While this novel opens with the POV of Rain's son-in-law, it's a nested tale of stories within stories. Phoenix recalls her childhood in China as the Cultural Revolution occurred, the failed attempt to escape, and when she actually was able to leave due to her education. There were glimpses of her mother's spirit, but it's not until she speaks to her aunt does she truly discover the depths of her mother's past. If you know the history of that time period, the way the Japanese made the Chinese suffer around the time of WWII, then you have an idea of what Rain had gone through as a teenager with her sister.

I like that Phoenix was fifty-two when she married George. Neither were innocent of relationships before their meeting and eventual marriage, but still got together at an age when most people write off romance. Phoenix was disappointed at not having a child, though caring for her mother as the dementia took hold gave her a somewhat similar experience. She calls it being the mother of a child that could never grow up, which is a sad truth of the situation. We get small pieces of what those years are like, and studded within those pieces we see are glimpses of a past that Phoenix never knew about Rain. In the midst of containing Rain's outbursts of fear, Phoenix assumed that it was nonsense talk. Only later did she realize there could be meaning to it.

Children never really know all about their parents. Some stories might be shared, depending on the context of situations that parents might want to bring up something, but for the most part, we always think of our parents as parents. We never really think of the lives they had before children came along. Rain lived through heartbreaking torment in the war, and tried to ensure her daughter would have a better life. It's all any parent wants for their children, and Phoenix did get that better life. In learning about her family's story, Phoenix saw the strength to survive and even thrive.

Buy Where Waters Meet at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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