Flowing Water, Falling Flowers by X.H. Collins offers a banquet of the senses for the reader interested in exploring a slice of Chinese life that fits somewhere between Upstairs, Downstairs and The Good Earth. The author uses meticulous attention to details of color, sound, food, and even faith to draw us into the world of a well-off merchant-class family with a large house, beautiful gardens, faithful servants, and a social status that requires conforming to the traditional standards of the time, beginning with the 1890s. We learn the gentle, tranquil surface of their lives hide troubling realities. We feel all the love, conflict, and pain as their world is transformed by the cultural revolution that touches all in different ways. The lessons learned about love and loss are echoed in the lives of the most modern generation of these resilient, unforgettable Chinese women. It’s a deeply personal narrative that has been made available to us all.
My favorite quote is found in the first chapter:
“Women are made of water. So says a Chinese proverb. Water is so soft that it changes itself to fit whatever shape it is allowed to be. But water can also turn an angled and rough rock into a round and smooth pebble, erode the mountain that blocks its flow, and capsize a ship it carries.”
I’m in a unique position for this review as I’ve been involved with a few early stages of the author’s writing career in English. First, as a fellow participant at a David R. Collins Writers’ Conference workshop. I notice her eagerness and drive at the open mic readings at Rozz-Tox café in Rock Island where I listened to her read her first short story. I made notes and used them to discuss writing craft with her the next day.
Second, I was on the MWC Press Pitch Committee the year she presented the manuscript for her first novel: Flowing Water, Falling Flowers. Knowing a writer doesn’t make an automatic pass. MWC Press is a small, no-profit operation with limited resources. Strong writing, potential, and willingness to edit counts big time. I found those qualities in Collins and am pleased to say that they have followed through into the final published work.
She has produced a good read.