Book Review: The Girl Who Wrote in Silk
By: Kelli Estes
Published By: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication Date: July 7, 2015
Page Count: 400
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Reviewer via NetGalley
Audience: Adult - Historical Fiction
I am always drawn into Pacific Northwest settings. There is something alluring about that region. Now that I no longer live there, I crave literary escapes whenever possible. Aside from the setting, I was also intrigued by the Chinese historical elements. I know little of the Chinese experience in Seattle in the late 1800's, but I knew that Chinese faced extreme persecution. I didn't realize how violent and tragic circumstances were until reading this and now I want to do more research.
Like with many of my historical fiction favorites, The Girl Who Wrote in Silk has a historical storyline and a contemporary one. I love when authors can blend together past and present. I found that both elements in this one kept me glued to my Kindle.
The contemporary story follows Inara Erickson, a young woman from Seattle who is fresh out of graduate school. Inara has recently inherited her family's estate on Orcas Island. Her decision to forgo a lucrative job opportunity with Starbucks to turn the estate into a boutique hotel is met with significant opposition by her family, but Inara perseveres in order to see her vision come to fruition. I admired Inara's grit and passion; she wasn't afraid to take big risks to preserve the land and home she loved. Things do take a turn when Inara discovers a hidden silk sleeve beneath a step. The sleeve has gorgeous embroidery that seems to be telling a tragic tale. As Inara begins to investigate the sleeve and its origins she turns up family secrets long since buried and is faced with a moral dilemma.
The sleeve connects to the historical story which follows Mei Lin, a young Chinese woman living in Seattle during the 1880's. Mei Lin was born in Seattle and has never known her family's native land, but that doesn't matter on the afternoon when the white men in the city round up every Chinese person they can find and force them on a ship bound for China. All along the Pacific Coast, those of Chinese descent are being forced to flee after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act. The act was intended to prohibit immigration of Chinese laborers, but it spawned a shameful period in American history that allowed racism, violence, and persecution to reign. Many white citizens in the Pacific Northwest feared the Chinese would take their jobs or ruin their culture. The treatment the Chinese received in this novel and in that time period were heartbreaking. Sadly, I feel that this is not an issue we have made great strides toward solving. Racism, prejudice, and ignorance still control a vast portion of the US today. We see it play out on the news on almost a daily basis. Have we learned nothing from the past?
I loved the way the contemporary story was connected to the historical one. I was drawn to both Inara and Mei Lin while reading and envisioned myself in their shoes. I highly recommend this to historical fiction readers, those who are craving a women fiction read, fans of Sarah Jio and Susanna Kearsley, and anyone interested in learning more about the treatment of the Chinese in the Seattle area. The Girl Who Wrote in Silk is informative, compelling, and thought provoking.
One Last Gripe: I didn't like Inara's father's attitude about the family history or his lack of support for his daughter. He was far too controlling for my tastes.
Favorite Thing About This Book: I loved the strength and tenacity of both Inara and Mei Lin.
First Sentence: Liu Mei Lin felt the steamship shudder beneath her feet and wondered if the quaking of her own body had caused it.
Favorite Character: Inara
Least Favorite Character: Duncan
The smallest items can hold centuries of secrets...
Inara Erickson is exploring her deceased aunt's island estate when she finds an elaborately stitched piece of fabric hidden in the house. As she peels back layer upon layer of the secrets it holds, Inara's life becomes interwoven with that of Mei Lein, a young Chinese girl mysteriously driven from her home a century before. Through the stories Mei Lein tells in silk, Inara uncovers a tragic truth that will shake her family to its core — and force her to make an impossible choice.
Inspired by true events, Kelli Estes's brilliant and atmospheric debut serves as a poignant tale of two women determined to do the right thing, and the power of our own stories.