Truth: I kind of loved this book.
Also truth: I don’t really know how to review it.
Why? It’s a pretty unique story, and I’m not sure I’ve got the ending quite figured out, and I’m not qualified to say whether the Asian detail was well done or not, but… Let’s put it simply: reading Spinning Silk was a good experience. If you’ve found in the past that your tastes align with mine? You’ll probably enjoy it. Now let me see if I can tell you more about why I liked it.
Furi has been abandoned at birth, and raised by a family that does not cherish the idea of having another mouth to feed, especially a female one. Furi is very talented, however – she’s a masterly silk weaver, although she is forbidden from wearing the silks herself. Before she is sold out to a rich household as a servant (well, mostly a slave), her step-brother tells her that she came swaddled in silks, and so makes her wonder about her own descent.
Furi’s life is hard – nobody loves an enslaved servant. But they must recognize her talent. And soon, out of the blue, there’s this odd gardener that seems to want to protect Furi from her fate for no apparent reason… She is lost and confused, wondering about her descent and some weird things going on, always around her, she starts pondering whether she can cause some scary, maybe magical things to happen. Following tragic events, Furi happens to find herself freed from her old masters. She then starts pursuing a life as a weaver and it takes her in an unexpected direction…
The Setting Was Different And Quite Natural
I know what you’re expecting. Set in ancient Japan, the main character being a poor slave… You’re probably thinking the setting is pretty cliched. But it’s not! That’s what I was pleasantly surprised about. Actually, perhaps the book might be accused of not being Japanese enough (?), I don’t know – although there are certainly details and little things that make it Japanese, like mentioning names and traditions. However, I liked it this way, because making the setting less exotic than is the case in most books set in Asia written by Western authors, T. Cook made the book not be cliched at all. The world Furi lives in just feels like a normal place – nothing is breathtaking, exotic, otherworldly and whatnot. It’s all natural – just as it would be, if an actual Japanese person was telling their story.
A GIF of a Japanese garden water basin, gently rippling and peaceful
Obviously, I’m not Japanese myself, and although I can speak Japanese and have actually been able to get a closer look at their culture through many friends and acquaintances and the long time I spent surrounded by Japanese books etc., I can still not say if this was a well-written Japanese setting or not – that’s for actual Japanese people to say. However, I liked the lack of exoticness that just gets old in Western books about Asia.
The Mystery About The Main Character
The whole story of Spinning Silk is really built around the secret of the main character’s birth and her finding her own self. As it progresses, you start forming your own theories, and I don’t know – you might form yours faster than I did, but I think T. Cook will have you mostly guessing till the end. The history is versed in magical realism and folklore, as well as in politics. What I liked about this part is that Furi was constantly wondering about it, why things are the way they are, and who or even what she truly is. Along the way, she had some pretty scary theories about herself and thought herself to be a danger to others, which is always an interesting story arc to read emotionally.
Folklore Turns Into Light Magical Realism
For some reason (probably the blurb) I expected this book to be more paranormal than it was. But after finishing it, I can mostly just put it in the magical realism category. Yes, it’s definitely versed in Japanese folklore detail, and that was great, but I felt like maybe it needed more info on it. I have actually read a lot of stories written by Japanese authors, seen films based on their own folklore, so a lot of this was not new to me – I’m a big fan of stories versed in Asian folklore. But I feel like maybe it would have been to a person who’s never read it. However, I liked how it was handled, and subtly put in the story.
I am not completely sure if I understand what happened in the end, so I might have to reread it sometime though.
A GIF of a cute dog, turning his head this way and that to understand the situation and looking puzzled
It Reads Incredibly Pleasantly And Is Strong On Emotions
I had no trouble at all getting engrossed in this book. It follows a first person narrative, sort of a journal or diary of memories. It was easy to read and easy to relate to. This format especially allowed for the reader to empathise with the main character’s feelings. The writing was also pleasant. I liked the amount of descriptive detail.
The other thing is that the book focuses strongly on emotions and the things Furi goes through. I have always been able to resonate with a book like that very well. Having you ride the emotional roller-coaster along with the main character puts all the background of the story and the setting on the back seat, and even if they have drawbacks, you will likely not pay them much attention, cause you’re biting your fingernails for the woes of the main character.
A GIF of Jake from Adventure Time nervously eating popcorn
A Slightly Different Slave Experience, For Once
When I read books featuring female slaves, I am always worried (in advance!) of the slave being raped. Cause that’s THE OBVIOUS THING writers turn to, when writing a slave’s life. I do realize that for a woman, that is a very obvious threat and as a slave, many could not evade this tragedy. But… I just don’t want to constantly be reading about it, okay? We KNOW it’s a thing. We don’t need to make it the only narrative.
And this is what I liked about Spinning Silk – T. Cook writes a different female slave situation. Yes, she gets beaten. Yes, she gets abused, and a lot. But she doesn’t get raped. Both because the men in the household are old. Both because they’re slightly afraid of her, because of the odd events that she seems to always bring about her. I found this incredibly refreshing. I want more stories like this.
But Beware Of The Triggers
Of course, there are triggers though. There is a lot of beating and abuse, as Furi is a slave. There is also despair and self-loathing on Furi’s part, as she thinks she has done some bad things and is not sure about herself. There are murders, intentional or not. There is also attempted rape.
Like I said, I really enjoyed reading this book. For fans of emotional stories with a little bit of magical realism versed in Asian folklore, I’m sure this would be an amazing read! Another thing I can truly say about this, is that I’m surprised this book has been self-published – in my opinion, it deserves wider attention and it should be on the shelves of many bookstores. It definitely has the potential to be successful as a mainstream book.
I thank the author T. Cook for giving me a free copy of the book in exchange to my honest opinion. Receiving the book for free does not affect my opinion. You can buy the book here at Book Depository and buying using this link supports the blog.
Have you read a lot of books based in Asia? Have some of them been refreshingly not cliched? And would you read Spinning Silk?
I’m Evelina and I blog about books that made an impression on me. I love middle grade, women’s, scifi and some literary too.