Review: Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze

Beautiful, Descriptive Storytelling

I first read Young Fu nearly twenty years ago, and it has been one of my favourite books ever since. Ostensibly a title aimed at young readers, it nonetheless has a depth and breadth of story that is not often found today, riddled with sayings plucked out of the Classics and subtle story arcs that may not be immediately apparent. Elizabeth Foreman Lewis did well to lend this novel an earthiness that draws the reader in without ever letting you forget that, beyond the boundaries of the limited stage upon which our heroes act, the world keeps moving.

The story follows its titular character, Fu Yunfa, from tragic beginnings as he and his mother leave their ancestral village for the bustling metropolis of Chongqing after the death of Yunfa’s father. As the only son–and only child–of his household, Yunfa of the House of Fu is apprenticed to Tang, a renowned coppersmith, in order to provide a future for himself and his mother once their limited savings and meager income are exhausted. Along the way, Yunfa makes friends and enemies, strives to perfect his craft, and flirts with disaster more than a few times.

Although the central plot revolves around the struggle of two villagers to escape poverty and avoid starvation, the whirlwind of events in which Yunfa finds himself is at once fantastical yet all too real. The time and place of the novel’s setting are in the uncertain days of early twentieth century China, Sichuan Province, a wealthy and vibrant expanse that was irresistibly attractive to Nationalist and Communist leaders in their respective struggles to unite and solidify China under a single, domestic leadership. From the absorbing tutelage of Wang Scholar to the timely intervention of the foreign doctor, Lewis transports the reader through space and time in the pages of this book, and once begun it is not easily put down until the very end.

 

Cover of Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis.

JC Augustus Lai Andurin
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JC Augustus Lai Andurin

J.C. Augustus Lai Andurin is an Irish-American author and philosopher. Having spent much of his life traveling the U.S., Europe, and Asia, he has a fierce wanderlust and thirst for knowledge. Despite his adventurous spirit, he is a husband and father, first and foremost, with three wonderful children.
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