Cover Image: Their Divine Fires

Their Divine Fires

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Member Reviews

Their Devine Fires follows a Chinese family through the women. It shows how Chinese culture and attitudes towards women change (or don't) over the years, how they lived and loved, and adapted to the times or fought against the grain. It's an intricate look into the lives of these women, and very enlightening, heartbreaking.

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THEIR DIVINE FIRES follows three generations of Chinese women spanning one hundred years and two continents.

This is a multigenerational family saga that centers around the Zhang family - Zhang Yunhong, a Chinese countryside girl who wants to attend school, falls in love with the son of a wealthy landlord. The story is populated by love stories/affairs, of people sacrificing and giving up for the everlasting love. The romantic relationships felt organic and sweet; and the family bonds, with its flaws, felt heartwarming.

At its core, this novel captures the way huge transformations (after the end of Chinese dynastic rule and Cultural Revolution) impact the characters. How can family bonds endure the brutality of war and trauma? Chen also covers themes of heritage, family, marriage, grief, regret and political conflicts (Guomindang x Communists) with a straightforward writing that acquires a lyrical tone when touching on cultural elements, incorporating a coat of tenderness that makes one immersed in the storytelling.

Part two suffered from the slow pacing - it felt more distant and political. However, part three and four converge in a way that brought back the layers of emotions - they paint a raw depiction of people who survived and lived through changes in a volatile world. The story is chronologically told from multiple POVs and in an attempt to include several perspectives, I wish some characters were further fleshed out. The author infuses Chinese myths in the narrative and I personally thought this is one of the novel's strengths.

Inspired by the author own family’s history, THEIR DIVINE FIRES is a beautiful debut novel. Highly recommend for those wanting to learn more about Chinese history or read a sensitive historical fiction.

ps: I appreciated the family tree, which was helpful at giving a better understanding and smoother transition between POVs

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Folklore and Myth in one book - sign me up please! I really enjoyed this very much and can't wait to read more by this author! The cover is amazing and will be suggesting this one for a fall friends buddy read.

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1917 southern China: life, romance and heartbreak. The entire novel is very detailed and is very fast-paced: too fast really. I got confused in parts and felt it was overly wordy and the pace started to lag, especially in the parts about Chinese history. I don’t know anything about Chinese history and wanted to learn about it. I wish those parts could have been included in a more accessible way.

There were some amazing visuals, especially during the preparation for the wedding and the wedding itself.

I wanted Emily to have more involvement in the plot.

Thanks to Wendy Chen and Algonquin Books for my eARC in exchange for an honest review.

3 stars.

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This book kept me up till 4am, completely wrecked my circadian rhythm, and I said thank you.

A sweeping saga of family that spans four generations, a hundred years, and two continents. It's fascinating to see how the characters' experiences affect their descendants. You will root for the characters and hurt when they experience sorrow (and there's a lot of it). This is a book I will reread and recommend.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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THEIR DIVINE FIRES is a gorgeously written, multi-generational story about a family enduring and surviving hardship from the Chinese Revolution to the present day. It reminded me of everything I loved in books like Pachinko, with haunting, poetic prose exploring the ripples of trauma passed from mother to daughter from generation to generation. Without sharing any spoilers, it's heartbreaking, achingly beautiful, and inspiring all at once, culminating in a final scene that had me tearing up. Its pacing is slow but intentional, with sudden bursts of violence, devastation, and loss that leave you reeling.

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I'm not a big fan of myth and folktale retellings. With that in mind, I liked this a lot more than I though I would!

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I am a sucker for multigenerational stories so this was a perfect choice for me. Very hard topics to read as the family dealt with the changing political landscape of China, but I gained a greater appreciation for the history.

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Upon first glance, I immediately jumped at the chance to read "Their Divine Fires"; a multi-generational novel focused on a family of Chinese women at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries? As a Chinese-American female myself, I was excited to read a novel that might mirror my family's and my own experiences from a perspective that isn't widely written about.

The novel is told chronologically across different perspectives, beginning with Yunhong, a young girl who grows up at the precipice of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the countryside of Liuyang. With her father as a respected doctor and two older brothers on the path to being respected scholars, her life should be a peaceful one - especially after she saves the life of a wealthy merchant's son and is promised that he'll return for her. Her life is altered though, when her oldest brother destroys her future plans, and Yunhong raises her daughter Yuexin without a father - and Yuexin later gives birth to two twin girls named Yonghong and Hongxin. The middle portion is told primarily from Yonghong's perspective; she envies her twin for her aptitude towards dance and music and struggles to find her own footing. The policies of the Cultural Revolution also alter her path in life, eventually causing her to leave for America to build a new life for her own daughter Emily outside of Boston, while her sister Hongxin remains in China and rises as a budding celebrity. Emily grows up straddling two worlds, never quite understanding the truth behind her family story and the complex relationship the women in her family have with each other.

There is a lot in this deceptively short novel that I appreciated - highlighting just how deeply the policies of the Cultural Revolution and Mao Zedong's actions changed the lives for Chinese people; the deep-seated generational trauma that can carry through many years; and the difficult decisions women have had to make over the years to survive. Yunhong's story was the most captivating for me, and I deeply connected with her desire to make her own path for herself.

However, there were definitely things I struggled with in this novel as well; for readers who have little to no background on the Cultural Revolution, much of the events and policies will be confusing and make little sense, especially as there isn't much context given to the earlier conflict between the Kuomintang and Mao's Communist Party as well as the forced "send downs" of city/urban dwellers to the countryside. I also found that there were just too many characters in this novel - four generations of women the relevant side characters in each of their storylines - is a lot to pack in, and made it difficult to keep each one separate from the others. Because of this, there isn't sufficient attention paid to each of them, as Yuexin barely makes an appearance in this novel and feels skipped over, and Hongxin's and Emily's perspectives feel overlooked. The pacing is inconsistent as well, and I struggled to get through the middle of this novel as it felt sluggish and uneventful. I think this novel will be promising to those who are intrigued by this time period and setting, but found that the execution of the writing detracted from the overall storyline.

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