In 1886, more than 350 Chinese residents of Seattle were driven from their homes and the city. In this novel Mei Lien is a fictional character who is one of these citizens, American-born even, forced from the only home she’s ever known, along with her father and grandmother. In the story, they are put on a ship supposedly bound for China, but they actually are all marked for death. Thanks to the sacrifice of her father, Mei Lien escapes and finds a home with a kind (white) man who eventually becomes her husband. The interracial marriage causes them challenges, but they love each other and are happy together — for a time.
In the present day, Inara is a descendant of an influential settler and business owner. Her great-aunt has just died and left her a large old family home on an island near Seattle. When she discovers a sleeve (mysteriously cut from a silk robe) filled with intricately embroidered story-pictures hidden in the house, it leads her to a handsome Chinese university professor and the unraveling of a story that will impact her and her family. How can she possibly choose among protecting her family, embracing new love and pursuing her own desires for the future?
The two women’s stories alternate in The Girl Who Wrote in Silk, and readers can’t help but feel compassion for Mei Lien and all she goes through and a desire for Inara to find happiness despite the unexpected challenges and choices she is facing.
Kelli Estes’ novel is a beautiful story of love and loss, of family, of the horrible human toll of racism. I knew few details about the purges of Chinese people in that area and time of U.S. history, and it was yet again astonishing and heartbreaking to hear of the horrific actions of racist mobs who fear the influx of “foreigners.”
Rated: Mild, for a few uses of mild language, references to sex but which are completely “off-screen,” and some allusions to violence.