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Thanks to the folks at Macmillan Audio, I have an audio clip to share from the audiobook edition of A Hundred Flowers, by Gail Tsukiyama. Thanks Macmillan! Scroll down after the jump to hear the clip and to read my original review of the book. But here are my thoughts on the audio version:
An audiobook narration can make or break a story for me. A good narrator can elevate the story and bring it to life but a poor one can ruin my entire enjoyment of the book. That's why I rarely listen to an audiobook unless I've already read the text. I don't want to miss out on a fantastic story because I couldn't sit through the audio narration. Luckily, I had nothing to worry about when I saw that Simon Vance was the narrator for A Hundred Flowers from Macmillan Audio. I absolutely love Simon Vance!
|Simon Vance, looking very British and proper...|
or well, British and casual, I guess
I first heard him when I listened to the audiobook of The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale. It was the first time I had read anything by Ms. Summerscale and I was unprepared for the level of detail and disparate references and asides she includes in her non-fiction. When I started the book, I was a little lost in the barrage of information. I may not have continued on if I hadn't discovered it in audio format, read by Simon Vance. His narration provided a focus and helped me keep track of the story being told, rather than getting lost in all the footnotes. I felt like he was simply telling me a story, albeit a complicated one, and because of that I stuck with the book and Kate Summerscale is now one of my favourite writers. Such is the power of truly outstanding narration. It's often his voice I hear when I read other stories set in Victorian England (he would be perfect for the narration of Alex Grecian's The Yard!).
Having said that, I wasn't sure what to expect with this audiobook. I mean, A Hundred Flowers is about China under Chairman Mao in the 1950's. It's certainly NOT about Victorian England. I wasn't picturing Simon Vance's upper class British accent when I read it. If anything, I was picturing the voice of Joan Chen, the actress who also narrated some of Amy Tan's novels (like The Bonesetter's Daughter, which was fantastic). I was definitely picturing a woman. But, as I've stressed, I LOVE Simon Vance, so I was more than willing to go in with an open mind.
Simon Vance did not disappoint. Sure, the novel took on a different tone than what I was picturing when I first read the text, but I didn't mind that. If anything, it actually made me appreciate the male characters a little more than I originally had. It does feel like an "outsider looking in" because he's so very British, but he still does the story justice and is fantastic to listen to, as always. He handles the different character voices deftly, without overacting or adding too much affectation (one of my pet peeves with audiobooks is when the narrator tries too hard to distinguish the characters' voices by making some of them sound cartoonish). Overall, it's lovely and compelling, just like the book.
Hit the jump to listen to a clip, available from Macmillan Audio, and to read my original review of A Hundred Flowers.
If the above clip doesn't play (I'd been having problems with it earlier), you can listen to it by following the link here.
In 1956 Chairman Mao declared that China should, "let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend," ostensibly to promote a new liberation of thought in China. One year later this policy was abruptly changed to include "re-education camps" for those who expressed thought that opposed the regime. Gail Tsukiyama's novel, A Hundred Flowers, explores the way in which one family was torn apart by these re-education camps.
The story is written in delicate prose and almost feels like it's been translated into English at times (it hasn't, it's just the author's style, which is both lyrical and direct, and subtle at times). I particularly love when a novel can transport me to another time and place and make me feel like I've really learned something about another culture or time period. I don't think of myself as someone who likes "historical fiction" but maybe I just don't like the heaving bosom frothiness of Phillipa Gregory and similar "bosoms and bustles" writers. There have been a LOT of historical novels that take place in the past 150 years that I really enjoyed, including this one.
Disclaimer: I received a digital galley of this book free from the publisher from NetGalley.com and then a copy of the audiobook from Macmillan Audio. I agreed to review the audiobook on my blog, but I was not obliged to write a favourable review, just an honest one. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.