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With a sub-title of ‘One family’s epic tale of survival in tumultuous Twentieth-century China’, I had a fair idea of what to expect from this family memoir, but Forged From Silver Dollar still left me reeling. Spanning four generations of women, Li Feng weaves an intense account of the lives of her great-grandmother Silver Dollar, grandmother Ming Xiu, and her own mother Rong. Feng herself is the fourth generation, but keeps major aspects of her own life hidden, while being transparent about her strained relationship with her mother.
The story of Silver Dollar is a sad and ambitious one, and sets up the beginning of a strong-willed female line. A girl sold at 12 to her future husband’s family, she was ingrained with a motto from her mother-in-law – ‘Grinding is your rest. Cooking is your relaxation.’ She lived this motto completely, slaving away until her mother-in-law passed away and she became the woman of the household. With three sons, Silver Dollar followed the same path she had been taught, while wanting the best for her children. This period of Feng’s story contained hard-hitting facts that I had trouble reading – the killing of baby girls, miscarriages, and sheer shunning of wives.
Her second son, Lu, married Ming Xiu, Feng’s grandmother. With the rise of communist forces, Lu’s execution forces the adoption of her children just to keep everyone alive. A wealthy and thriving life is quickly turned to poverty and hardship, and Rong’s story begins.
Rong’s suffering was great, and her story and relationship with Feng form the real crux of this tale. A motto of “No Failure, Only Success!” is forced upon Feng, with Rong really only wanting her daughter to have the successful, educated life she missed out on. Most readers will relate to this strained relationship – without having to have grown up in Communist China, many are bound to have some relatable experience of extreme expectations from family or society.
Forged From Silver Dollar is not to be read lightly – it’s hard to take in the sheer horrors that Feng’s ancestors have gone through, and I took longer than usual to read this book. She has taken the struggles of real women to create a memoir that will empower and relate to many readers.
Reviewed by Kimaya McIntosh
Forged from Silver Dollar
by Li Feng
Published by Hachette Au