Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Bitter Winds and the Tales of the Scavenger's Daughters Trilogy by Kay Bratt Now on Sale!--Set in Post Cultural Revolutionary China--This Sensitive Portrayal of Orphans and Family is a Must Read!

This is the trilogy we will look at today; the author is Kay Bratt. [1]
Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

     Bitter Winds is Book Three in the trilogy of  The Tales of the Scavenger's Daughters (Re- lease date, April 8, 2014). Book One of the trilogy, The Scavenger's Daughters, and Book Two, Tangled Vines, comprise the foundation of the trilogy with Bitter Winds, Book Three, providing the climatic conclusion of the series. Today we will have a look at the whole series. First, we'll look at an abbreviated synopsis of Books One and Two, and then, second, we'll look more in depth at Bitter Winds since it is the new book out (just today).

     I also want you to know that I am an advance reader for this book, Bitter Winds. As an advance reader, I received a copy of the book for free in exchange for a non-biased book review to be published on Amazon and GoodReads from April 8-10, 2014. I am under no obligation to give a good review, just a review.

     As of the time of this post, I have already completed my obligation in regard to publishing the review, both at Amazon and at GoodReads. That obligation having been satisfied, I can tell you what I posted there and, perhaps, even flesh out the series a little more for you. Now, let's begin by looking briefly at the book that started it all, The Scavenger's Daughters.

The Scavenger's Daughters: 
Tales of the Scavenger's Daughters, Book 1

The Scavenger's Daughters, Book 1,
Tales of the Scavenger's Daughters

Trilogy by Kay Bratt. [2]

   The prologue of Scavenger's Daughters sets up the book, and in a larger sense, what follows throughout the rest of the series. The majority of the tale takes place in Post Cultural Revolutionary China. The setting is one that greatly impacts the characters and their lives.

     It is here, in this location, at this time, that we meet the backbone of the family, the driving force behind the individual family members, and his daughters' desire to succeed and survive. We meet a young Benfu--the man who is to become the father and protector of his future family of daughters.

     As the story opens in 1967, seventeen-year-old Benfu is imprisoned in a small metal outhouse stinking of human excrement, flies and mosquitoes landing on him, biting him, and stinging him; Benfu was unable even to swat them away; his hands were tied behind his back.

     He blinked--his beaten eyes swollen and painful, his breathing coming in ragged gasps, his ribs bruised and cracked and the cuts on his face stinging as perspiration caused by the heat ran into his eyes and open wounds. They were trying to break him. He would not give up the names. He would not. He would keep his mother and father safe.

Pei saved two days rations (just
four rice balls) so Benfu
could have some food. He also gave
Benfu his water canteen. [4]
     They were coming to torture him again--he heard the metal chain on the door rattling, the door opening. No. No. No. It was too soon. Then a whisper in the dark...a young-sounding voice said, "Benfu?...I'm here to help you." Untying Benfu, Pei handed him his "share of rations from the last two days;" Pei had saved four rice balls for Benfu. Handing Benfu a water canteen marked with Pei's own initials, Pei urged Benfu away. Running towards the field, Benfu "turned to see the boy one last time but he was already gone...Benfu wished he had thanked him for such a selfless act, but now it was too late. He turned and ran" (p.8).

Benfu did not get a chance to thank Pei for
his selfless act. Would Benfu's life be any
different if he had had a chance to thank Pei?
Do you think that every selfless act of Ser-
vice that Benfu did after that was how
Benfu thanked Pei? Or...do you think Benfu
truly admired Pei and wanted to be like him? [5]
     Fleeing, Benfu had a lot of time to think. He "marveled" at why he of all people had been "given a reprieve," he was filled with gratitude and knew that Pei had risked his life to free him. Benfu told the gods that if he lived through his escape, he would "spend his life finding ways to be just as selfless as Pei had been with him" (p.9). As the prologue ends we realize the motivating force behind Benfu's life: he would look for ways to be as selfless as Pei in helping others. Will Benfu keep his resolve to help others? Let's see what happens in the rest of the book....

     After the prologue, Chapter One begins in the year 2010. It is forty-three years after Benfu's escape from his imprisonment. The very first thing we observe is Benfu (now sixty years old) doing is helping a widow who lives across the street. He fills a bucket with water and gives her chickens some water--then he waters some herbs in the old widow's windowbox. This beautiful little vignette is so symbolic of Benfu's life. He gives the life sustaining elixir of life--water--to Calli (his wife) and his daughters just as he has done with the herbs and chickens. Water is such a wonderful symbol of life...something Benfu longed for when he was a prisoner in the hot box so long ago. Something he does as a water symbol, himself--he pours out his life for his daughters, for his family, everyday. I simply love this beautiful tiny, small, little vingnette--it is so telling about everything Benfu...simply...is.

     There is no other conclusion to make but that Benfu must have lived up to his promise of intended selfless service towards others. We must assume that he has done so for his entire life.

Benfu and Calli name all their girls after
flowers--I think they already know
what it is like to see the miracle of
each and every one of their flowers.[6]
     Continuing his day, Benfu gets on his bicycle and starts another day of scavenging through trash for recyclables and collectibles to earn money to support his large family. Before he gets far, he has found another baby in the trash in the alley--he rushes the baby home and Benfu and his wife, Calli, save and adopt yet another abandoned girl. They name her Poppy. All the girls they have saved have been given names of flowers.

     The beauty of this book is how Benfu and Calli raise these cast-away-girls as their own, giving them kindness, love and acceptance in the face of the stark reality of their lives. Benfu considers, "Lao Tzu was right when he once said, 'Kindness in giving creates love.'" Benfu, in his heart, appreciates having had the opportunity to raise and love all 24 of his "flowers that have bloomed in the fields of his life"--even if none of those flowers were his and Calli's.

Benfu brought out the violin, placed it in Lily's lap and
guided Lily's hands to it. Calli called out to Lily to "Be
careful with that, Lily. It is your Ye Ye's most prized
possession..." (p.120). Benfu said no that it wasn't.
He said that it was his, but now it belongs to Lily.
Then, after  Benfu gave the violin to Lily, Lily
said, "I'll call her Viola. She's part of us now
because she also has a flower name." [7]
     Two of the twenty-four girls Benfu and Calli "adopt" are Lily and Ivy; the two girls are twins and have been inseparable from birth. Lily has a profound disability in her blindness, while Ivy zealously protects Lily. Loving the girls and wanting to help give Lily a direction in life, Benfu generously presents Lily with his one prized possession, a beautiful and rare violin, hidden away at the start of the Cultural Revolution. We don't recognize it here, but the generosity of Benfu's gift of love to Lily starts a chain of events that will only be complete by the end of the final book, Bitter Winds.

     Living on the margins of survival, Benfu struggles to feed and clothe the girls--he does so by scavenging through trash for recyclables, newspapers, trash of any kind that can be sold. He does so to support blind Lily, protective Ivy, one girl who is a paraplegic, and one older girl, Linnea, who struggles to grow up and become a bread winner to help the family. Linnea meets a handsome young man, Jet, and struggles with herself over her growing feelings and desire to help her family. Benfu feels his age creeping up on him. He still has the canteen Pei gave him and continues to look for the young man who aided him all those years, ago. And, of course, no good book is complete without a major obstacle to overcome.    

Tangled Vines, Tales of the Scavenger's
Daughters, Book 2 
by Kay Bratt [8]
   Tangled Vines: Tales of The Scavenger's
Daughters, Book 2

     The middle book of a series of three books in a trilogy is called, "The Bridge Book." A bridge book is often difficult to write and many times is either lacking in substance or plot or sometimes just fails to give any satisfaction in moving towards a resolution--not so with Tangled Vines.

     Where the first book in this series was so sweet and wonderful, and heart warming, Tangled Vines's book's personality, so to speak, is much more poignant and complex, just as the book title implies. The lives of the characters grow increasingly complex and difficult as they attempt to work through the obstacles in their lives. One great technique that Kay Bratt uses to help tie the first and second books together is through the use of a pivotal character: Linnea.

     Linnea had a very important role in book one. We watched as Linnea struggled to find a way to support herself and the family. We saw her stretching herself, learning to be confident, and utilize courage to become an independent business woman. Now, we find Linnea and the other Scavanger's Daughter's characters and plot continued on into this book.
Many different types and
colors of dahlia's exist. Li
Jin is named Dahlia by Benfu
and Calli--they had a small
dahlia tattooed on her heel before
she was kidnapped. [8]

     Kay Bratt adds to the complexity of the plot by adding a parallell story for Benfu and Calli's lost daughter, Dahlia (AKA: Li Jin). This is a parallel story because Benfu and Calli know nothing about Dahlia's life, where she is, or what she is going through. Nor does Dahlia know anything about Benfu and Calli and their great sorrow about having lost their beautiful daughter.

     The moving story, central to this book, is not one for young or sensitive readers, as adult themes are present (including physical and sexual assault). The two stories are parallel: Benfu and Calli's on the one hand, and Dahlia (and Jojo's) on the other.

Even in Kay Bratt's book we see people working to
try to stop violence against women; we also see a half-
way house, of sorts, and women who work to support
other women and children to help them escape
violent environments. [10]
   We fear for Dahlia and her son Jojo. We watch as she struggles to save Jojo and herself, to overcome her fear to act, to recover from a brutal beating, and to gain the courage to trust. We cannot help but wonder if Dahlia will be able to save herself and her son, Jojo. Along the way, Dahlia (Li Jin), gets entangled in a friendship with a young abused pregnant woman, Sami. This young woman will impact Dahlia/Li Jin's life in ways that she cannot begin to imagine.

     While we observe Dahlia's struggles, in the parallel story, Linea begins the search for Benfu and Calli's biological daughter, stolen from them when the little girl was just an infant. She searches diligently for Dahlia, never giving up even though hope is small that she will be able to track down a single little lost girl child in a huge and chaotic China.

     In between the two parallel stories we watch as the other girls in the family grow. Ivy helps and fiercely protects her blind twin sister, Lily. As Lily gets older she becomes increasingly unhappy with her confinement and the lack of freedom her blindness causes her. She has gained the skills necessary to play the violin beautifully, and though insecure, she pushes herself to be courageous and to play in front of other people. Lily also is beginning to chafe at Ivy's protectiveness--what was once comforting is now stifling. How will she achieve some independence in a country where girls and women are looked-down-upon, where even the sighted have a difficult time earning a living and where the vulnerable are in constant danger.

If we look at this trilogy, Zheng Benfu was introduced as the
character in Book 1. In Book 2, Benfu and Calli had long desired
to find their daughter, Dahlia (Li Jin). Book Three is where
everything is challenged in the form of one incident that creates
multiple obstacles for everyone. Of course, each individual
book is also structured this way, as well. [11]
     So...to find out how everyone's lives get so tangled up, I invite you to read the story. For the ultimate resolution of the twining together of the tangled lives of Benfu, Cali, Dahlia and Jojo, of Lily and Ivy, of Dahlia (Li Jin) and Sami, Jet and Sky (another male character we'll see more of later on) you can only experience the story by growing with the characters. The resolution of the conflicts are not to be missed.

     And...remember that this is a trilogy. Some of the story lines will continue on into Book Three. Continuity is important in a trilogy, and Kay Bratt does a great job in the exposition of Benfu and Calli's story about the family. She doesn't give everything away, but she does do a masterful job in setting up the reader for the final chapter of Zheng Benfu's family in Book Three.

Bitter Winds: Tales of the Scavenger's
Daughters, Book 3
 by Kay Bratt, on sale
April 8, 2014 at booksellers, everywhere.[12]

Bitter Winds: Tales of the Scavenger's Daughters, Book 3

Book Synopsis: 
     Li Jin, given the name Dahlia by Benfu and Calli at her birth, tattooed with a beautiful little dahlia flower on her heel as a baby, was just a month old when she was kidnapped by Benfu's mother and sent away into obscurity. Thirty years later, Benfu and Calli's adopted daughter, Linea, conducted a time-consuming search to find that stolen daughter. Tirelessly, Linea expended her love and effort in the hope of finding Dahlia, so as to grant some measure of peace and happiness to the two people who had showered so much love on her and so many other orphaned and abandoned girls. 

     Finally finding Li Jin, the reunion was bitter sweet. Li Jin had to work to get beyond her own bitter feelings for the people she believed had abandoned her at a young age. In the face sheet to the Prologue, Kay Bratt includes a saying by Lao Tzu: "A violent wind does not last for a whole morning; a sudden rain does not last for the whole day." We can assume that these "Bitter Winds," that are coming to the family in this book will at some point abate. But it is how the family deals with the winds that shows the character of those assaulted by them.

Kay Bratt's Facebook page has a ton of information
about her books and other things. You can
find out more about her book, Red Skies
there, so check it out at: this link. [13]
     The publishers reveal that Li Jin opens a shelter for homeless or displaced people. She wants to change her past life from one of abuse, discouragement, and hopelessness to embrace the new-to-her concepts of family, acceptance of love, and fulfillment. 

     Li Jin's beautiful new relationship with Sami is to be tested and tried when Sami does not embrace this new life, but is consumed with bitterness and a desire to obtain revenge on those who have hurt her. Things become even more strained after Sami gives birth to her baby--a little girl.

     Complications get even more strained when blind Lily is detained and put in a kind of jail. Her sister became her guardian after a terrifying night when Lily was almost burned to death in a fire in their home; now, Ivy is fraught with anxiety, guilt, and anxiety for her sister. She is determined to do whatever it takes to get her out--even if it means jeopardizing her own freedom or her own life.

Many of the characters in the books
have to take this piece of advice.
It is most likely a true statement
for all of us.[14]
     Bitter Winds reminds me in so many ways of the story by O. Henry, The Gift of the Magi (see my review of this book by following this link.). It all started in Tales of The Scavenger's Daughters, when Benfu gave Lily his priceless violin. All the girls saw the example he set in his gift of love. Now, in Bitter Winds, Ivy, and other characters will make their own gifts of love, just as Benfu, just as in The Gift of the Magi. I won't tell you what they are, as it would spoil the beauty and suspense Kay Bratt has worked so hard to give to us as readers of this beautiful book.

     Second, as I mentioned, above, the continuity flows throughout the book and the trilogy. First , in Book One, we saw Benfu and his daughters--Linea, notably--take center stage. Then in Book Two we saw Linea bring Li Jin (Dahlia) into the family when she searches and finds Benfu and Calli's baby girl, Dahlia. Now in Book Three we see Li Jin establish a home for the destitute children and elder homeless; this home becomes pivotal in the redemption attempt to get "Lily" out of detention. And, of course, Lily and Ivy have been woven into the story throughout all three books, as have other supporting characters like Jet and Sky.

Benfu and Calli have many ways that they showed their twenty-four
beautiful girls about love. As you read the book, see how many ways you
can spot Benfu and Calli showing love. [15]
     Third, I was very much drawn to the family relationships in this book (actually, all three books). I loved to see the troubled mothers especially (Benfu's and later, Lily's and Ivy's mother--By the way, what did you think about the "vision" or the "meeting" Ivy has with her mother while she is in the institution?). The stressful relationships with the fathers (Benfu and his father, Jet and his father, and, of course Sky has his own troubles with his family, as well). 

I have not reviewed this book, here,
but if you are interested in reading
more from the world of The Scavenger's
, check out Kay Bratt's
Facebook page by clicking on this link.
This book is a stand alone book and
can be read before, during or after
the trilogy.[16]
     We also see Sami's dysfunctional family, with a mother who is cold, controlled and bitter who does not protect her; we see her father sell her to the highest bidder for sex at a party, damaging Sami irretrievably. We see the damage done to Jojo by Erik in his parental role (the story about the yoyo was heartwrenching!). And, finally we see Sami's damaged relationship with her newborn daughter. We also get to see the hope of a new, healthy family beginning with Li Jin, Sky and Jojo.

     Fourth, Benfu makes much of the damage that China is doing to families, basically destroying families. He sees it first hand when his own family is destroyed in the Cultural Revolution. Then, throughout the books we see injustice piled upon injustice in the laws China wields against its poor, homeless, destitute, orphaned, and powerless. We also are given snapshots of corrupt, callous, and unfeeling government officials.

     Finally, even though Kay Bratt includes these characters in the story, these unjust laws, and these corrupt persons, never does she over write. I mean that she never sounds as if she is standing on a soap box preaching at us and beating her chest. She, instead, makes the pain feel personal; she shows us what it is like instead of openly condemning people or institutions--in other words, she lets us make our own decisions about injustice and unfairness. We are the judges.

     This book is a sensitive portrayal of a family and in many ways society, set in Post Cultural Revolutionary China. The material contained within is, in many ways, for adult reading.  We have themes of physical abuse of women and children, rape, prostitution, bribery, thievery, and suffering both internal and physically. Even so, this book is a wonderful picture of a family of love, devotion, and faithfulness. We see the best in Benfu and Calli's love and lifelong devotion to orphan and abandoned girl children. So, while it is not a book I would give to an immature or sensitive person, it is wonderful for adults--obviously, the intended audience.

My rating is 4.5 Stars
out of 5 [17].
     Because of all the things I said, above, I give this book a 4.5 star rating out of 5. Congratulations to Kay Bratt for writing such a beautiful book. Kay Bratt continues her work as an advocate for children, "to be the voice for children who cannot speak for themselves." You can visit her facebook page for more information about her work. 

Kay Bratt tweeted me this wonderful
message about my book review today
(04-08-14). I have already sent my
 appreciation and thanks to Ms. Bratt
for her thoughtfulness.
     Thank you for joining me this week as we have looked at a trilogy of books by Kay Bratt: The Tales of The Scavenger's Daughters. Please join me next week when we will open the pages of a new book. Until then, I hope you pick up a book and read it...if you enjoy it, let me know what you think about it. I'm very eclectic in my taste in books and would love to hear from you about what you like. Be kind to one another, especially your family members. And, as Li Jin says, don't let someone else steal your joy (p.300).

  Until next time...
"If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly,
our whole life would change."--Buddha [18]
...many happy pages of reading!

All my love, Sharon.

[1] "J.A. Konrath: Guest Post by Kay Bratt." jakonrath.glogspot.com. Retrieved 04-07-14.
[2] The Scavenger's Daughters by Kay Bratt.
(3) "GoodReads Author: Kay Bratt." goodreads.com. Retrieved 04-05-14.
(4) "Make Sticky Rice Balls." happycow.net. Retrieved 04-05-14.
(5)  "Heaven is NOT the Primary Goal." nyambare.wordpress.com. Retrieved 04-05-14.
(6) "If We Could See The Miracle of a Single Flower Clearly, Our Whole Life Would Change." simplyspirtualliving.org. Retrieved 04-05-14.
(7) "Greek Like Violin: Day 21 (2 Corinthians Completed!)" tavisbohlinger.wordpress.com. Retrieved 04-07-14.
(8) "Tangled Vines: Tales of the Scavenger's Daughters." amazon.com. Retrieved 04-06-14.
(9) "Dahlias." countryliving.com. Retrieved 04-07-14.
(10) "Stop Violence Against Women, Now." firstcovers.com. Retrieved 04-07-14.
(11) "Great Presentations: A Good Story Idea." agilesensei.com. Retrieved 04-07-14.
(12) "Bitter Winds: Tales of the Scavenger's Daughters, Book 3." amazon.com. Retrieved 04-07-14.
(13) "Kay Bratt: Facebook." facebook.com. Retrieved 04-07-14.
(14) "Getting the Message." makingsenseofsocial.blogspot.com. Retrieved 04-08-14.
(15) "The Real Question Isn't Whether or not...." firstcovers.com. Retrieved 04-08-14.
(16) "Red Skies." facebook.com. Retrieved 04-08-14.
(17) "4.5 Stars." jerrysartarama.com. Retrieved 04-08-14.
(18) "Top 28 White Roses Pictures For Free Download." funstock.com. Retrieved 04-04-14.