This story reminds me of harsh stroke modern art, or puppet theater or stylized dance/theater. It's well written and inspired by the historical character of Sai Jinhua, but every possible opportunity to increase the pathos of the story has been taken. In an effort to capture our western sympathies for this woman, a victim of fate, everything has been made as terrible as possible.
Instead of the historical story of being in a brothel as a late teen or 20 year old, this Jinhua lands there at age 7. The woman who runs it is so cruel that at the footbinding ceremony, she threatens to drop her pet dog into the kitchen fire because... because... well, I can't think of a reason besides just to prove to us that she is unimaginably cruel and unfeeling, a caricature. Jinhua's only meaningful relationships are with her father who is executed at the opening of the novel and with women who are either forced or hired to serve her, who are devoted to her. Jinhua is portrayed as so innocent and full of life throughout the novel that she becomes a caricature as well.
So the characters are exaggerated. But there's something to be said for a simplistic story told with exaggerated characters and action. It gives us a snapshot of China before and during the Boxer Rebellion. It is striking in its bold strokes, its melodrama. It is more art than history, but a work of art that will hold your attention while it lasts.
I got a free copy of this from First to Read.