My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Perhaps one of the most disappointing factors in a reading experience is when you finish a novel that had all the potential for greatness and fell so far short. This is exactly my experience with Under the Hawthorne Tree by Ai Mi.
It is difficult to point to just one reason the novel failed. It could have been the English translation that was so very uninspiring, spare, flat. There was not one inspiring passage, one beautifully turned phrase. For me it was like reading a young child’s first fiction.
The novel’s failure could have been in the utter naivete of the author’s story, an unrequited love like unto Romeo and Juliet, but so far short of the depth of story required to have significant emotional impact.
It could have been the characterization of the heroine, Jingqui, who swung from sympathetic waif to spoiled and self-centred idiot.
Combined, these flaws create a saccharine romance that should please lovers of Twilight, Harlequin Romances, and other novels of similar ilk.
Throughout the narrative, the author attempts to create a romantic tension between the two main protagonists, Jingqui, who is a young female student, and Sun Jianxin (known as Old Third),who is a soldier in the People’s Republic of China.
Set in post-revolutionary China, Jingqui meets Old Third while working on a farm as part of her school curriculum. Jingqui then proceeds to bounce between the extremes of loving and loathing, admiring and mistrusting the handsome soldier, Old Third, who does everything in his power to ensure her happiness and safety, even unto his own destruction.
Her sexual naivete is beyond ridiculous, especially for someone who is allegedly as well-read and intelligent as she, little say someone who works among farm folk. The ridiculousness of her lack of sexual understanding extends to belief that she might become pregnant through a kiss, or sitting on a bed with a man, or even just allowing a touch. For a girl who has watched ducks mating, and likely seen other farm animals mating, this protracted lack of understanding wears thin by the denouement. And given she has knowledgeable female friends who very much indulge in gossip, and have a keen awareness of sexuality, it is only logical that some of the basic, physical facts of sex might have filtered through. Overall, Jingqui’s lack of understanding of the sexual act entirely lacks credibility.
And if the author hoped to create a romantic tragedy, she only succeeded in that the character of Jingqui proves to be so selfish and uncaring of Old Third’s genuine well-being, that the death-bed scene ends up a melodramatic screech of Jingqui’s presence.
Now a major motion picture, I can only hope the screenwriter, Lichuan Yin, used the novel only as inspiration, and created something far more credible and memorable.by