Review : February Flowers
February Flowers by Fan Wu
Pages : 300
Genre : Fiction, China, GLBT
My Rating :
What it’s about :
It is the fall of 1991, in China, when seventeen years old Ming starts university. There she meets Yan, an older girl with a personality completely opposite to hers. As quiet and innocent and idealistic as Ming is, Yan is outspoken and loud, and doesn’t care much about conventions. Yet despite their differences, the girls form a surprising friendship, forever changing Ming’s life.
My Thoughts :
February Flowers was everything I love about Chinese contemporary fiction – or at least, what I have personally experienced of it. It had a quiet pace, a beautiful narration and complex characters. Though the book is about Ming and Yan’s friendship, this is mainly the story of Ming and how that relationship changed her.
I guess it could be argued whether February Flowers is, or isn’t, about homosexuality. In fact, I have read reviews arguing both sides of this. The girls never truly engage in a sexual relationship, nor do they ever clearly say that they are homosexual or bisexual. They certainly flirt with the possibility, and Ming is clearly confused; she has a hard time determining whether her feelings for Yan are more than friendship, and if these feelings are precisely linked to Yan or to women in general. There is no clear answer given, either, and I liked that : no answer means no label, and I felt it was realistic that Ming wouldn’t be one thing or the other. It might be that she is somewhere in between, or that what she lived was specific to the situation with Yan and never to be reproduced. So while it might not be a GLBT novel in itself, the theme, from my point of view, is at least present.
I do think the book is a coming-of-age story : it’s about Ming finding who she is in this modern China, having the views she grew up with clashing with the world Yan is offering her. This story of discovery is a slowly paced one, and nothing much happens in term of events, but I loved getting to know Ming and see her relationship with Yan develop.
Yan isn’t a really likable character : fascinating and colorful, yes, but also manipulative and self-centered. But she also lived through some difficult things, so one might explain the other. I think her interest in quiet, studious, caring Ming, comes from a place of envy, or maybe curiosity, to know what her life could have been if she had made different choices or lived through different things.
I definitely enjoyed this study of characters, and a book set in modern China was a refreshing change of setting. The fact that Fan Wu did grow up in China and studied there, like Ming, only added to how realistic the setting felt.