Ties That Bind, Ties That Break
Lensey Namioka

The story starts with a look at Ailin in her current life in America in 1925, as a hostess at her husband’s restaurant. When she notices a familiar face, which turns out to her former fiancé Hanwei, as the two begin to talk she finds out why Hanwei is in the United States. The contestation then turns toward why Ailin left Najing for America. This takes Ailin back to a time when she was five back in 1911, when she first met Hanwei (in her mind).

In China most women of upper class societies have their feet bound. A process of having strips of cloth tightly bending all of the toes back except for the big toe which are bent back to the sole of the foot. Making the feet look like a wedge. Ailin was about to endure this painful Chinese tradition at the hands of her mother, her amah, and a couple of maids when Ailin’s father intercedes, and tells Ailin’s mother that she does not have to have her feet bound if she does not want to. Shortly after that Hanwei’s family breaks off the engagement.

Then four years after the broken engagement Ailin’s father announces that he is sending her to public school (the MacIntosh School). There Ailin excelled at English speaking it almost perfectly, and makes a close friend Zhang Xueyan. One day while waiting for her ride home Ailin runs into her former fiancé and has no feelings about him one way or the other. During this time Ailin’s father has been suffering from a prolonged illness (possibly tuberculosis) which he later dies from.

With her father gone Ailin’s uncle is now the head of the household, and informs Ailin that once this semester is over she will no longer be attending school. The news soon travels around school and her favorite teacher offers to tutor her during the summer, where Ailin meets a missionary couple from America. Once the summer ends Ailin’s uncle informers her of the options a woman in her position has; become a concubine, marry a tenant farmer, or become a nun. As Ailin considers her options she find out the family she met over the summer is leaving for America and is need of someone to look after their children, and so viewing this as her best option Ailin bids her family a difficult farewell and heads off for San Francisco.

On the boat to San Francisco Ailin meets a man named James Chew to who she reviles just about everything about her life to. When Ailin arrives in America she receives quite a culture shock with the food, living arrangements, and various other things. Ailin tries her hand at cooking and finds American spices and rice not suitable for cooking Chinese food. Ailin later learns about Chinatown and begins making weekly trips. On one of her trips she happens to see James Chew. The two catch up and she learns that he plans to open his own restaurant and later proposed marriage. The story ends by coming back to Ailin and Hanwei in the present time. With Hanwei still wanting to know why Ailin did not wait for him (which I am not sure she really answers). She bids Hanwei farewell she asks him to take a message to her family; tell them that she is doing well and is proud of all the hard work she has done and has done so “by standing on my two big feet.

I really liked this book. It really gave me insight into the traditions of other cultures. I would recommend this book for middle school students or early high students. - AP