A rape. A war. A society where women are bought and sold but no one can speak of shame. Shanghai 1937. Violence throbs at the heart of The Dancing Girl and the Turtle.
Song Anyi is on the road to Shanghai and freedom when she is raped and left for dead. The silence and shame that mark her courageous survival drive her to escalating self-harm and prostitution. From opium dens to high- class brothels, Anyi dances on the edge of destruction while China prepares for war with Japan. Hers is the voice of every woman who fights for independence against overwhelming odds.
The Dancing Girl and the Turtle is one of four interlocking novels set in Shanghai from 1929 to 1954. Through the eyes of the dancer, Song Anyi, and her brother Kang, the Shanghai Quartet spans a tumultuous time in Chinese history: war with the Japanese, the influx of stateless Jews into Shanghai, civil war and revolution. How does the love of a sister destroy her brother and all those around him.
This is a book that will stay with me for a long time. Haunting and beautifully written, The Dancing Girl and the Turtle is the story of Song Anyi, a young woman who after the death of her parents, travels to Shanghai to stay with her Aunt and Uncle. On the way there she is attacked by three men, raped and left for dead. What follows is her descent into prostitution and self harm in an attempt to deal with this horrific event.
This book is a really powerful one, and the story of Song Anyi is incredibly compelling reading. At times it was uncomfortable, but throughout it was vivid and well portrayed. The book is broken up into short chapters, and each one features differing view points of characters – some from Anyi and her brother Kang, and other times her cousin Cho and their maid Blossom. I really loved these differing points of view, it offered a chance to see Anyi and the story from different perspectives and really served to highlight the way that the Song family attempt to deal with what happened to Anyi – with a sense of shame, pretending it never happened.
The Dancing Girl and the Turtle also has a really fascinating backdrop – China in the 1930s – a time when women had no voice and little say in their lives. This combined with the country preparing for war with Japan, makes for a very rich and compelling setting. Initially I thought The Dancing Girl and the Turtle might be a quick read – being only 280 pages – but there is so much history, so much detail about women fighting for their right to be heard, that I found myself really taking my time, in order to savour this beautiful novel. If you only read one book this autumn, make it the beautiful and atmospheric Dancing Girl and the Turtle.