This wonderful book has already been heavily reviewed and highly praised. How can I usefully add to the many affirmations of brilliance?
I will start by mentioning the only deficiency, which may be confined to the mobi version I read. A few of the changes of scene were abrupt enough to stagger the flow of my reading. I would have liked a few more new chapters to emphasise scene changes, or even a few dinkus between the paragraphs. I didn't find the extra line breaks sufficient on my reading device as they often aren't noticed between variably formed 'screen pages'. I fully acknowledge that this is pernickety― but the book is so well constructed in most other respects that this easily included little change would be worthwhile. If stronger breaks have been left out to account for differences in line length (dependent as it is on font size), then a compromise might be to position a 'dinkus' on a double or treble width indentation to that of the paragraph opening. This looks stylish enough.
This book has all the story elements of classical tragedy and is as powerful as any powerful classic I have ever read. What is more, this fiction reads as truth. We know from the history record of the Korean War that every detail written in this story did happen, though not in the exact way they have been put together by Aerie. Books like this play a vital part in keeping modern history alive. It is clear that a good deal of basic research was matched to the very good fiction writing. Through books like this, historical fiction really shows its worth. The terribleness of the war story is well balanced by the in depth construction and deconstruction of the emotional lives of several individual players. We come to understand a great deal about just exactly who many of the characters really are, and not just what they individually do. We know what poisoned the mind of Tin-Bo, what kept Jasmine going, why Wesley risked so much, and what made countless lesser characters tick. We see how war turns rationality upside down, how pain twists emotions, how xenophobia, dogma, politics and culture all have many obvious and less obvious facets and many hidden consequences.
This book is written very much from the angle of those in the 'East' in the nineteen forties and fifties, rather than from the often has been recorded 'Western' perspective. Such fiction goes a long way towards helping us understand how the culture we are born into colours our judgements. The greatest of experience of one's own side of a conflict is hollow unless we can experience that of our enemy. Even if our other experience is only ever gained through powerful writing it can provide enough empathy to create some depth to understanding. We don't have to have lived in Shanghai in 1950 to feel what it was like to do so; we can feel by reading Aerie. She writes that well.
I am so looking forward to Aerie's next work, which I hope will be every bit as emotionally powerful as this one.