Tiger Tail Soup: A novel of China at war
List Price: 16.95
Available: May 2014
When bombs fall within earshot of An Lee’s home on the southern Chinese island of Kulangsu, she’s pregnant and her husband is missing. He appears days later wearing the uniform of a Nationalist Chinese Army officer. During the next seven years, she sees him again only twice. She’s left alone to protect their children, her mother, and her mother-in-law. Their island is spared from invasion for a time because of its status as an international treaty port. But on December 7, 1941, the Japanese launch a coordinated attack on Pearl Harbor and all the international enclaves in China. Under occupation, starvation and disease are rampant. Enduring loneliness, fear, and the death of those she loves, An Lee struggles to keep hope alive. In this lyrical and emotionally charged novel inspired by her late husband’s tales, Ms. Chen paints a fascinating portrait of love and resilience in a time of war. Even in wartime, a mother must dream, and An Lee’s repeated dreams of white tigers and a dog-eating monk need interpretation. Traveling to the mainland, she consults with a famous abbot who tells her that her dreams foretell an illustrious life for her son, yet to be born. She hurries home to find that her husband has finally returned, only to leave again the following morning. He can’t promise when he’ll be back. While An Lee waits, she stocks the pantry, buries the family gold, and memorizes her “treasure map.” As bombs fall across the water and refugees in small boats are shot down by Japanese fighter planes, she gathers with her mother and mother-in-law to consider whether they should escape to Hong Kong or Manila. But how can they flee when her mother can barely walk on her crippled bound feet? They decide to stay. Surrounded by the enemy, An Lee gives birth to a son, Ah Chew, her tiger boy. For the next three years, the people on Kulangsu exist as a “solitary island,” neither occupied nor free. One stormy night, a strange man dressed in fisherman’s garb attracts An Lee’s attention by throwing pebbles against her bedroom window. He leads her to where a boat is waiting to take her to a fishing junk anchored offshore, where she will spend one precious night with her husband. Then on December 7, 1941, bombs fall on Pearl Harbor. Simultaneously, Japanese troops march on Kulangsu. They confiscate food and fuel and order a curfew. An Lee joins the Kulangsu Cultural and Resistance League, an underground group that performs anti-Japanese street theater. But when she loses two of the people she loves most, she falls into a deep depression from which only her “tiger boy” can save her.