Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Undertaking of Lily Chen

The Undertaking of Lily Chen begins with a quote from a July 26, 2007 Economist magazine article "Parts of rural China are seeing a burgeoning market for female corpses, the result of the reappearance of a strange custom called 'ghost marriages.'  Chinese tradition demands that husbands and wives always share a grave.  Sometimes, when a man dies unmarried, his parents would procure the body of a woman, hold a 'wedding,' and bury the couple together... A black market has sprung up to supply corpse brides.  Marriage brokers - usually respectable folk who find brides for village men - account for most of the middlemen.  At the bottom of the supply chain come hospital mortuaries, funeral parlors, body snatchers - and now murderers."

The story opens with the death of Deshi Li's brother Wei.  Deshi accidentally kills him during a fight at the air force base where he is stationed.  When he tells his parents that Wei is dead his mother sends him off to bring back a corpse bride for Wei to be buried with so that he is not alone through eternity.  Deshi hires a man to dig up a grave of a woman for him but Deshi is grossed out after seeing the bones of an old corpse and leaves him at the cemetery to seek a "crisp" corpse.  He then begins to travel looking for a bride when he runs across Lily Chen who is getting water from a well for her parents.  Lily joins him believing that he will take her away from her remote village to Beijing for a better life.  Deshi is planning to kill her though.  As they travel they run into some strange folks and Lily's sassiness begins to grow on Deshi.

What makes this book special is the incredible artwork.  The author has used watercolors, pens and inks in her drawings in gorgeous colors that leap off of the page.  She has detailed Chinese papercuts drawn in red as well as colorful landscapes and simple line drawn characters.  This could really be displayed as an art book on a coffee table.  The art is that good.

I cannot recommend this book more highly.  The story was well paced and had an interesting storyline that could actually happen in China today.  Lily is hilarious with her sass.  I love her character.

I give it a 10 out of 5 stars!

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