If you, like me, are a reader who often has several books going at once, you will revel in Molly Patterson’s debut novel, Rebellion. It really is four stories, conveniently packaged into one 546-page book. Two plot lines are set in China; two plot lines are set in Illinois. Each of the four plot lines settles on one woman: Hazel has her farm in Illinois in the 1950s; Addie travels to China as a missionary in the 1890s; Louisa, Addie’s sister and Hazel’s mother, arrives in Illinois to establish the family farm in the years when her sister is overseas; and Juanlan, a university graduate lives in southwestern China in the late 1990s.
You’d probably have to be a better student of Chinese history than I am to understand right away how these plot lines come together and why the author chose these particular periods in time. I spent quite a lot of time while I was reading the first half of the book trying to figure it out. Then I realized that the name of the book was actually giving me a fairly heavy hint. No, that’s all I’m going to tell you, but I will just mention that the personal becomes very, very political for each of the four women whose stories are told in this novel.
Hazel gets her own voice to tell her own story as a first person narrator, and she is the only one. I think it serves to show how isolated her life becomes, out there on that flat farmland. Maybe it serves another purpose. You can read to find out!
What particularly struck me was how completely immersive each of the story lines were. Each woman’s existence looks fairly tame and placid on the surface, but the novel serves to bring out the passions and the secrets and the motivations behind each woman’s life choices. Historical events also trigger ardent responses in each of these women, which highlights the time frame of each story.
So this is a novel that is both deeply personal and broad in scope. If you want to really escape for a while, this long, immersive read will take you away!
Other fiction set in China includes:
The Concubine’s Daughter by Pai Kit Fai
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan