Hello friends! Brief book club announcement before we get to todays book. Can you guess how many books we’ve read over the months? Thanks to Bayta and Sarah who uploaded all of the past books, the answer is impressive. We are on our 28th book. Twenty eight! Scroll through the books we’ve read and be impressed with us :). Now, on to our 29th book . . .
Welcome to Chapters one to eight of The Scavenger’s Daughters (Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters) by Kay Bratt.
In the Prologue we meet Benfu. The year is 1967 and China is embroiled in The Cultural Revolution. You’ve probably hear of the Cultural Revolution, as wikipedia called it, “a social-political movement.” It lasted from 1966 to 1976 with the goal of preserving communism and purging both capitalism and traditional elements from society. In many regards, it was a failure. Case in point, Benfu being separated from his parents and losing the opportunity to go to college.
Our story picks up in Chapter one with Benfu, now quite old, discovering a baby girl abandoned near a place where he scavenges. We come to find out that she is the twenty-fourth girl Benfu and his wife Calli have welcomed into their home after being abandoned. I loved the way that Benful and Calli gave all of the girls flower names, planting them in their “garden.”
Before we get into the themes I noticed in this section, this book is bringing up a lot of memories of my first students in China. I moved to China in 1995 and taught at a provincial School of Education—meaning that my students were from all over the province and were junior and senior high school English teachers. All had completed the equivalent of a junior college education in the U.S. (two years of college) and were returning for two more years of school. Thus, they were not your typical undergrads and ranged in age from early 20s to late 30s. Most were married. Many had a child. A majority didn’t want to be teachers.
Doing the math, if they were between 22 and 39 in 1995, most spent their childhood in the Cultural Revolution. I comprehended almost none of this when I first moved to China. During the five years teaching writing at that provincial college, I assigned journal topics and essays that helped me grow in my understanding. I remember my shock when I read students writing about how hungry they had been most of their childhood. Or how guilty they felt because they had been the appointed child to receive food since the family couldn’t afford to feed everyone.
Most of my students were so small (even as full grown adults) I often felt like a giant. It took time for my brain to recognize the men as men, especially in the ill-fitting suit jackets many wore.
I now see that I was the small one and they were the giants.
Like Benfu, many of them could have gone to a four year college or university, but life had not dealt them the hand it had dealt me. Just last week I was talking with a high school girl who had returned from a summer trip to Haiti and been exposed to poverty like she had never seen before (and her dad works at the Denver Rescue Mission, so it’s not like she hasn’t been raised around people who have had rough lives).
Anyway, the point of this story is that after her return we were talking about her experiences and she brought up the poverty. And the joy. She kept talking about the joy she saw and felt. Yet the poverty. Joy. Poverty. Confusing. Then she said, “But if God wanted them to have money, they would.” Part of me recoiled inside. I understand that she was (and is) trying to make sense of the poverty she saw. Of the treatable handicaps of the children she worked with had. Of they ways the children seemed to have been discarded by society. And as an adopted child from Asia, who herself had once been living in an orphanage, underlying were questions of “Why me? Why not them?”
I told her, “It is confusing. Why do some have so much and others so little?” I do not believe it is simply that if God wanted them to have money, they would. And in time, I don’t think that is what she will believe either. But her brain probably isn’t developed enough and my role wasn’t to correct her. I wanted to give her space to share her story.
So, while I have been reading about Benfu, Calli, Mari, Maggi, Ivy, Lily, Linnea, Poppy, Peony, and Jasmine I’ve been thinking about my students. I’ve been thinking about abandoned children in Haiti. I’ve been wondering about the man outside of my back gate all those years ago who repaired my bicycle tire. What aspirations did he have? Where is he now?
As we continue on in this book, I have a weird feeling about Jet. Is he good news? Or is Linnea somehow going to be taken advantage of? How will Benfu and Calli continue to care for the girls in a society that doesn’t provide assistance to the elderly? Is Linnea going to end up being responsible for her sisters?
A powerful theme thus far is that of belonging. Some of the girls are more able to fully embrace belonging in the Zheng family. I want to know more about Peony’s mom’s story. While her postcards help keep the two of them mildly connected, they do impact Peony and her sense of place in the world.
Lots more going on in this book! What have you been thinking about as you’ve read?
Until the comments,
July 11—Chapters 1-8
July 18—Chapters 9-17
July 25—Chapters 18-22