Monday, February 15, 2021

A Single Swallow

Title:  A Single Swallow
Author:  Zhang Ling (author). Shelly Bryant (translator).
Publication Information:  Amazon Crossing. 2020. 304 pages.
ISBN:  0761456953 / 978-0761456957

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I have many names."

Favorite Quote:  "Time is a miraculous thing. It can wear down the thorns of emotion, gradually eroding them to dust, and from this dust, a new sprout grows. That sprout is the power of life."

A Single Swallow is the story of one woman - Ah Yan - told through the perspective of three men in her life - Liu Zhaohu, William E. Macmillan aka Pastor Billy, and Ian Ferguson. Liu Zhaohu is the boy Ah Yan grows up with; they share a history and perhaps more. Pastor Billy is the man who saves Ah Yan many times and protects her. Ian Ferguson is an American soldier.

In Ian's words... "For her, we were three very different men. Liu Zhaohu, you were her past. When I met her, she had already turned that page. And Pastor Billy, through you lived alongside her, you were always concerned about her future. It was only me who ignored both her past and future, capturing her present. I was the only one of us who knew how to sit in the moment, admiring her blooming youth, not allowing either her past or future to destroy her perfection at the moment."

The perspective of the story and the manner in which it is told is unique. These three men meet during the war. The connection to Ah Yan occurs in different way. Each purports to love her in his own way. At the end of the war, the three men make a pact that after their deaths, each year of the anniversary of the end of the ware, their souls will meeting in the village in which they met. Of course, some die earlier than others. So, at the beginning, only some meet. In their reminiscing is the story of Ah Yan.

The other unique aspect of the story is that it never shares the perspective of Ah Yan herself. The reader hears about the atrocities she suffers, her courage, and her survival in context as told by these men. They even call her by different names - Ah Yan, Stella, and Wende. All of this, at times, proves frustrating because I want to know her "real" story. The horrors she endures and their impact on the men or their revelation through the eyes of the men creates a distance from her emotion. That remains elusive throughout the book.

For that reason, the ending becomes challenging to understand because the reader never sees or understand why she makes the choice she does. The ending is also frustrating because of all the extreme situations and drama in the book, Ah Yan's fate hinges on a clerical issue. Does that happen? Of course, it does. It just seems out of context in this book.

For these reason, also, the tone of the book is a lot of "telling" rather than living the events with the characters. The narrators are reminiscing so the story is through the lens of memory. The story is about Ah Yan, but her perspective is missing. So, things are told as happening to her, but she herself is somewhat missing.

All of this is even more frustrating in a time and place where so much focus is needed on helping women find and have a voice on a personal, professional, and global stage. Ah Yan and her story could have had an impact on that conversation if only the character had a voice in her own story.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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