Thursday, December 12, 2013

Everything under the Sky (Todo bajo el cielo) by Matilde Asensi

Fast as the wind, slow as the forest, swift and devastating as fire, still as the mountain

Why I read this book?

This book was recommended to me by my aunt. She loved it so much that it inspired her to visit China.

What's the book about?

In the early 1920s Elvira receives a letter informing her that her husband has died in Shanghai. Accompanied by her niece, Fernanda, she travels to China only to discover that he didn't died out of sickness but most likely he was killed and left behind nothing but debt. At the same time she will find herself with her hands on a mysterious box that will take her on a journey across China trying to find a long lost hidden treasure and maybe, find her own peace of mind.

What about the characters?

Elvira is meant to be a strong willed character, particularly when you consider the time where the story is settled. However sometimes it will feel more like stubbornness than strong character. Granted, it would be easy to feel mad often surrounded by the condescendence that she sees towards women once in China, but sometimes her dismissive attitude towards Chinese medicine or culture in general was a bit much for me to swallow. It was gratifying to see her adopting some ideas towards the end, at least.

We got married out of interest [...] once our objectives fullfield, our marriage was a lovely story of friendship.

Fernanda was insufferable. Since she has had a shielded life this 16 year old thinks that she is better than anyone and will not let others forget it. Writing this lines I realize that the 3 main characters (Lao Jiang being the third one) are stubborn and consider they view of the world as the only right one...for most of the book. Is probably this dynamic, everyone pulling from each side that allows the author to give so much information about tradition and how it is looked upon by a foreign.

Final thoughts

For a book in which I didn't particularly like any of the characters I was surprised as to how much I liked the book as a whole. It is the story and the history that take the protagonist role in this novel. Asensi describes the surroundings in a beautiful way, yet is not overwhelming; it gives you a picture to set the story without taking importance from it. I found the dialogues a bit stiff, but I couldn't point out if it was because it was meant to be that way as people didn't like each other most of the time, or if I am out of practice reading in Spanish.

An excited mind by out of control emotions, in a tired body and with agitated senses is an invitation to misery and sickness.

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