“Nigerian and Chinese cultures aren’t so different or similar as you might think.”

Amethyst Saw writes about books and here is her review on FEBRUARY FLOWERS. Thank you, Amethyst!

Humans connect in various ways. We connect by showing vulnerability and responding to it. Connection can be built by recognising, comparing, relating and sharing similar emotions or experiences. February Flowers by Fan Wu had the former while I connected through both. I’ll share how I connected with more of the latter.

We are all humans regardless of where on the earth we fall on. As Chimamanda Adiche said in We Should All Be Feminists, “the problem with gender is it prescribes how we “should” be rather than recognising how we are’. The female gender; girl woman. Mere nouns that prescribe how females should be at any given stage. They powerfully enslave and free us in various ways. Their relations are ironed out in this book. It’s like the characters live some of your personal memories. I hoped to learn more about unique but failed female friendships when I came across the book.  However I have learned Nigerian and Chinese cultures aren’t so different or similar as you might think.

“I had earned the reputation of being one of the most intelligent students in the class and that helped justify my aloofness.”

“As a girl or a boy you were a bad or dirty child and bad student if you were interested in boys or in a relationship.”

“What’s wrong with being a bad girl?”

The book is set at the University in Guangzhou and other places in China. It is narrated by stream of consciousness of Chen Ming. I loved the writing style and pace of the novel. It was a coming of age novel written as memory flash backs of the heroine, Chen Ming. The story is about the friendship between the teenage heroine and a popular final year woman, Miao Yan. I was immediately enamored by Miao Yan. Her boldness, calculated wit, beauty, confidence and womanliness. Truly deserving of the nick name ‘wild goose’. She holds all the affection of younger, smart, reserved Chen. Until the later is heart broken. There are other characters like love interests of both women, Chen’s room mates, Chen’s parents.

The novel has the themes of friendship, self discovery, selfishness, love, betrayal, kindness, big city and student struggles. It asks questions like: ‘why do we change ourselves for love?’ and ‘what does it mean to be a woman in China?’ The second question reminds me of a phenomenon in Nigeria where young girls are told to grow into women fast by learning homeliness. Yet older women refer to themselves as baby girls. The funny irony of rushing to grow and learning to be a woman only to realise it means less innocence and little change.

Some lessons from this engaging narrative are not to change yourself for the ones you love, the guilty live afraid and you never really know anyone.

To read more reviews by Amethyst Saw, click here

Featured image: When I was little and lived on a farm, I spent a lot of time watching dragonflies (蜻蜓). I’ve read somewhere that the dragonfly symbolizes change. That I don’t know but their iridescent bodies and wings are surely fascinating.

Author: Fan Wu

Fan Wu grew up on a state-run farm in southern China. After college, she received a scholarship from Stanford University to come to the United States. Her two novels are February Flowers, translated into eight languages, and Beautiful as Yesterday, praised by Amy Tan as “a story with intelligence, insight, and heart.” For more, please visit www.fanwuwrites.com