Living Treasures was a Bellwether Prize finalist and is a powerful novel set in China and centered on a young law student who finds her life changed by the violence in Tiananmen Square, which kills one of her friends. Her reaction (since she eschews violence) is to fall in love with a charismatic young soldier: the only problem is, she becomes pregnant.
Her parents arrange for her abortion and she flees school and home in disgrace, ending up at her grandparents’ house in China’s remote Sichuan mountains.
For all intents and purposes this story could have ended here; but Bao’s saga continues in an unexpected direction when she helps a panda and a pregnant young mother (who is hiding from China’s one-child policy enforcer).
Here Bao’s own background comes into play as she sides with family and survival and finds herself simultaneously immersed in a dual struggle to save a young woman and a panda cub.
Living Treasures is nothing short of spectacular; especially for readers who want a story steeped in Chinese culture, tradition, and politics but cemented by a powerful young woman who emerges as a savior to others. Equally notable are passages filled with a sense of rural place, which engage all one’s senses in the sounds, smells, and feel of Sichuan province:
“She hiked up the mountain. Wild azalea leaves glistened, their buds swollen and pink, ready to burst into flower. The red bark of birch trees caught the sun’s slanting rays, and lichens drooped in luminous strands from their boughs…Never in her life had she imagined fawning over a peasant who tried to circumvent the one-child policy. Bao was a university student, the elite of Chinese youth, and a law student at that!”
Any who want a slowly-building sense of place and purpose and who want to better understand Chinese culture, history, and heritage will find Living Treasures is all about the nation’s changes, reflected in the life of young Bao as she learns how and when to take stands for her changing beliefs.
Literary and lyrical, Living Treasures is a lovely, absorbing story steeped in Chinese tradition.