Daughters of the Red Land


319 pages
ISBN 0-920813-17-8
DDC C813'.54





Reviewed by Caroline Sin

Caroline Sin is a Ph.D. candidate in English at McMaster University in


Like many promising but uneven first novels, Daughters of the Red Land
is difficult to evaluate. On the one hand, Li’s prose style is
frequently irritating and lacks a certain polish. Her language tends to
be flat and littered with superfluous qualifiers, and her narrative
skills, particularly when she attempts to write from a child’s
perspective, often lack subtlety. On the other hand, her story about
three generations of Chinese women whose complex lives intersect is

The novel is narrated by Peace, a Chinese-Canadian woman who has just
learned that her estranged father has died. Prompted by this unsettling
event, Peace begins to reflect on her family history, on the lives of
her grandmother, her mother, and Peace herself—three women bound
together by their shared persecution under Mao’s Communist regime. Her
reflections reveal a complicated history of personal courage and
struggle, as the women try to come to terms with the radical political
changes transforming China. Li relates these personal struggles without
melodrama, and her depiction of the political turmoil, portrayed most
skilfully in her characters’ bewilderment at the rapid changes,
astutely conveys the sheer magnitude of China’s upheaval.

In spite of its flaws, then, there is much in this novel that is of
value. Within three short generations, Chinese women have moved from a
system in which their feet were bound and their marriages arranged, to
one in which they were expected to labor on communal farms, to the
current one of free enterprise and international trade. Li’s novel
usefully records their personal and imaginative responses to these


Li, Yan., “Daughters of the Red Land,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 27, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/1389.