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Secret of a Thousand Beauties    by Mingmei Yip order for
Secret of a Thousand Beauties
by Mingmei Yip
Order:  USA  Can
Kensington, 2014 (2014)
Softcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

Embroiderers in Imperial China were highly prized for their artistic and technical skills. However, theirs was a profession fraught with difficulty. Competition was keen; they were replaceable and sometimes had to die. Spring Swallow finds all this out as she seeks refuge from her ghost husband in a community of embroiderers.

The stories of the four women there give us a picture of what life was like at that time for unattached females. Spring Swallow chafes under the strong criticism of Aunty Peony, who is the leader, but she is also grateful to have a place to stay and learn. Change comes to all the women, and Spring Swallow must make her way to Peking (Beijing) from the small village where Aunty Peony had chosen to live and work. Beijing brings many adventures, some of them a bit unbelievable.

Though it is very pleasant to learn through Spring Swallow of the life in these times, about the customs, the foods and how people lived, Spring Swallow's character leaves something to be desired. It's as if her story is there only to illustrate the time, instead of to develop a real person. At the end, the narrative trails off, sounding like the author has run out of steam. The story could also have used a close editing - there are some very modern words that jar in a story of those times.

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