Book Review: Xinran’s ‘Miss Chopsticks’ Tells the Story of a China We Don’t Often Read About

Ubud Writers and Readers Festival

Three sisters from the countryside of one of China’s most impoverished provinces seek fame and fortune in the second-tier city of Nanjing. Will they succeed in their quest or will they fall victim to unscrupulous city slickers?

“Miss Chopsticks” is the fictionalized biography of 3 Chinese women, who have been reborn in book form as sisters, their lives intertwined by Xinran, whose first novel was the critically acclaimed book about Chinese women, “The Good Women of China”.

I read “Miss Chopsticks” by default. I had actually wanted to purchase China born, British based Author Xinran’s latest book, “Buy Me the Sky”, which was the topic of her interview with events moderator Steven Gale at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival on 30 October 2015.

Following the fascinating presentation about how China’s one child policy had turned the country’s time-honoured family structure on its head, I headed straight to the nearest book stall to buy the book, but it was sold out.

Since I couldn’t buy Xinran’s newest book, I decided to buy her first book, “The Good Women of China”, but it was sold out, too.

Of the books by Xinran that WERE on sale, I decided to take the pragmatic approach and buy the one that was the thinnest and easiest to carry.

If I liked it, I could always buy Xinran’s other books when I got back to Hong Kong.

Ignorant Village Girls

”Miss Chopsticks” tells the story about a China that we don’t usually read about: ignorant village girls running off to the big city that DON’T fall prey to unscrupulous city slickers out to take advantage of their naivety.

They don’t get ripped off or end up slaving away in factories or turning tricks in brothels.

Instead, the sisters encounter kind-hearted people who help them find good jobs with practically no effort, and they navigate their ways in what should be a strange and frightening environment with little difficulty.

The sisters face few real challenges along the way. Everything just seems to work out better than they could have imagined or hoped for.

It’s not all peaches and cream. There is heartbreak for one, and one of their relatives has a frightening encounter with the police, but it ends happily.

Uplifting Story

Overall, this is an uplifting story about the lives of 3 women who were not related in real life, but who become sisters whose lives are intertwined thanks to Xinran’s literary license.

Most books end leaving readers wondering, “What happened next?” and this book is no exception.

Unfortunately, Xinran succumbed to a comment by her translator, Esther Tyldesley, who said, “I wish I knew what happened to the three sisters afterwards, and I suspect a lot of your readers will, too.”

Perhaps Xinran could have done what some television documentaries do, adding brief followups explaining succinctly what happened to each of the 3 pragmatists and the places they had worked at.


Instead, she adds a rambling 10 page “Afterward”, which seems a bit self-indulgent.

I thought it detracted from the story rather than add to it. I would have enjoyed the book more if I hadn’t read it.

As one of my political science professors once put it, “Sometimes what you DON’T write is as important as what you DO write.”

Having said that, the book held my interest to the end. I enjoyed reading it, and I would recommend it to others.

That’s one book down. Not sure which one of Xinran’s books I should read next, her newest book or her first book.

Maybe I’ll just wait and see which one of her books is for sale the next time I find myself in an English language bookstore and let serendipity make the choice for me.


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