Four Treasures of the Sky

Jenny Tinghui Zhang's breathtaking debut novel, Four Treasures of the Sky--a Shelf Awareness Best Book of the Year and a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice--opens like a traditional hero's journey. But the story is pared down to its essence and thus reads more like poetry, subtle but effective, taut without sacrificing immersion. This continent-hopping coming-of-age story set in the late 1800s follows young Daiyu, named after the fictional poet Lin Daiyu of Chinese literature. She vows she will shed the melancholy of Lin Daiyu's legacy.

When her parents disappear, Daiyu is shipped away to Zhifu by her grandmother for her own safety. Far from her village, Daiyu assumes the name and appearance of a boy named Feng, who sweeps the stones outside a school and learns traditional Chinese calligraphy under the dreamlike tutelage of Master Wang. But the dream cannot last, as readers know from the first paragraph: "When I am kidnapped, it does not happen in an alleyway. It does not happen in the middle of the night. It does not happen when I am alone."

Daiyu winds up in a San Francisco brothel run under the guise of a laundromat; her name transforms again, as does her identity. As the Chinese Exclusion Act warps America--during the era of this book and deep into our present reality--Daiyu is forced to protect herself. Yet she holds onto the hope she first manifested in Zhifu. Somehow, there will be escape. There will be beauty. It is this hope in the face of crushing tragedy that makes Four Treasures of the Sky such a triumph. Zhang has accomplished a remarkable work of fiction that feels so real it stings. --Lauren Puckett

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