Book Review: All the Flowers in Shanghai by Duncan Jepson

It is 1930’s Shanghai and Feng is just a young woman of seventeen. She has grown up in the shadow of her sister as the second born and realizes she holds no importance in the family. Her sister has been groomed to marry into a family that will ultimately further her own family along. The wedding is set but Feng’s sister falls ill and passes away. Feng’s family must save face and therefore offer up their other daughter in marriage instead. Innocent in every way Feng is quickly thrown into a world that terrifies her and steals her innocence away.

Feng is married into the powerful and rich family of the Sangs. Feng has no idea of the ways between men and women but her husband seems to be kind when he isn’t around the rest of his family. Much of the trouble starts when he visits her bedroom. At first he is patient and doesn’t push her too hard but after being humiliated by his mother he forces himself on Feng. The most important thing to the family is for Feng to produce an heir – a son. As naive as Feng is she does understand that her role is to produce an heir and eventually she does become pregnant. Her first pregnancy doesn’t go according to plan and she loses the child but what she gains from it is some power over others in the house including her husband. After Feng’s son is born she devotes herself to him and while she and her husband don’t live together as man and wife anymore they are civil and enjoy each others company.

As time goes on Feng’s son grows into a young man that both of his parents are proud of. Yet something lurks in Feng’s past and it is about to rear it’s ugly head. When confronted with the awful truth of something she had done in the past she runs from everything she has ever known. She heads straight into a China that is in a political turmoil leaving behind the security and privileged life she has led as part of the Sang family. Life is not so easy for Feng in the outside world but as she has made mistakes in her past, she feels that it is nothing she doesn’t deserve.

The journey through Feng’s life was many times difficult to read because of the way women were treated. It’s hard to imagine in our world that baby girls are considered useless and nothing but a disappointment. It’s hard to imagine that women would have baby girls taken away at birth instead of suffering the humiliation of having born one. A world where a woman’s only goal in life is to please her husband and have no say in anything at all is certainly one I’m glad to not have been born into. I have long been interested in reading novels about Chinese culture because it does fascinate me. I love the way they hold tradition and customs in high esteem but when saving face means really hurting people it’s something that is upsetting. Yet will I stop reading these books – no because I still love learning about their traditions, ways, and their food. These books will always fascinate me even while the treatment of women upsets me.

All the Flowers in Shanghai is the debut novel of Duncan Jepson and it was a good one for me. I look forward to reading more from this author. I read All the Flowers in Shanghai for Duncan’s book tour with TLC Book Tours. Be sure to check out what others have thought of the novel here and pop into Duncan’s website as well!  You can pick up your own copy of All the Flowers in Shanghai by Duncan Jepson here in the US and here in Canada.

Source: Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours and the publisher. No compensation was received for this review and all opinions expressed are my own.


    • admin says

      Diane, I know what you mean by a book not always fitting a moment in time. There are a lot of books that if yo read them at the wrong time you end up disliking them.

  1. says

    The reviews I’ve seen on this one rate this one as generally okay, but not stellar. I enjoy Lisa See’s novels, so I think I might like this one as well, but I’m not rushing out to get it. This looks like a library pick.

    • admin says

      Beth(Bookgirl)- I still prefer Lisa See but I think this a good effort and an author to watch. I think it would be a great audio if it becomes available that way.

  2. says

    Like you, Chinese culture fascinates me so I might just download this one soon. I’ve been looking for something different to read. I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump but am coming out of it, now. Kylie was visiting and I was more interested in playing with her. Thank you for your honest and well-written review!

    • admin says

      Linda, I was wondering where you’ve been. I kind of figured that Kylie must be visiting. I hope you had a wonderful time. I would be interested in your thoughts if you do read this one.

    • admin says

      Kathy, I can’t imagine growing up as a girl in this culture at that time at all. It angers me whenever I think about it.

  3. says

    I liked this one too, but wish there had been more of a resolution when it came to the end. I wish I could have seen some kind of relationship build between the mother and daughter, but it was interesting nonetheless. I thought that the ways in which Feng morphed into such a horrible woman were interesting to watch, and lord knows that she did have her reasons! Great review today, Dar! I loved hearing your perspective.

    • admin says

      Heather, I think the ending suited the story. I think I’ll email you separately on my thoughts so I don’t ruin it for anyone planning to read it. I agree though it would have been nice to see her go home and develop relationships with her children again.

      I was a bit surprised by her sudden change in temperament but then I’ve never lived a life like that. Who knows what it could do to your mind.

    • admin says

      Beth(bookaholicmom), I love Lisa See – she’ll always be my favorite but I think this book was a great effort and enjoyable. I’d be happy to send you my copy if you want it.

  4. says

    I’m kinda fascinated by this one, and of course Heather (one of the sole reasons I needed more bookshelves!) passed it on to me. I look forward to reading it, and will prepare myself to not exactly like the protagonist.

  5. says

    Sadly, I was super disappointed in this one — I found everyone too unlikable — and the personalities too thinly articulated! Nice review — you articulate why I enjoy reading books that make me uncomfortable!

    • admin says

      Audra, I’ll have to pop over and read your review. I didn’t connect to anyone in the novel and you’re right they were unlikeable but for some reason that didn’t bother me a lot which is unusual.

      • says

        Here’s my review, but don’t feel like you have to read/comment. I had to reread my review to see what I disliked about it — I really can’t remember a thing now, a mere three weeks later! :/

  6. says

    I’m so glad that you enjoyed this one. I liked it well enough, but I wanted more from it than I got. In the end it was just an OK read for me…I felt the author relied too heavily on stereotypes of Chinese women during this time.

    • admin says

      Serena, I agree. It was really focused on stereotypes of Chinese women at that time but I think that’s why I did enjoy it more than some people did. I wouldn’t say it’s a favorite of mine but it was enjoyable.

    • admin says

      Holly, I don’t think us bookaholics can ever get to everything on our lists. Lol. I hope you get a chance to read this one. I’d be interested in your thoughts as it has has mixed reactions.

  7. says

    What’s crazy is that now China doesn’t have enough women for all of the male population!!! Wouldn’t it be horrible to be treated as such??? Breaks my heart and like you I always find myself wanting to read more about this time period.

    • admin says

      Staci, I couldn’t imagine a life like that and it is heartbreaking. Yeah, I can’t turn down books from this time period. Even if I’m horrified I’m glued to the pages.

  8. says

    Stories like this break my heart – how people can place such little value on baby girls is mind-boggling!

    I’m glad that you’ll continue reading these kinds of books despite the difficult topics. Thanks for being on the tour!

  9. Lisa S. says

    This sounds very intriguing. This would be interesting to read about their culture. I will definitely put this on my TBR list. I have a neighbor friend that has grown up here in the states & then when she graduated high school she enlisted in the Navy & ended up in Japan. I’ve been so curious about the culture over there where she is & ask so many questions! Thanks for the indepth review.

  10. says

    I jumped at the opportunity to read this book. I am nearly done with it but I am not sure I can quite sum up my feelings in relation to it as I feel kind of disconnected from the characters at this point.


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