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February 3, 2012 > Book Review: The Jade Rubies

Book Review: The Jade Rubies

A book review by Robert A. Garfinkle

I really enjoyed this fascinating look into the world of Chinese immigrants into Canada in the early years of the last century. Valerie Lee is a local author with a talent to dig deep into this somewhat mysterious (to non-Chinese) world. Lee effectively introduces us to Chinese terms and then uses them throughout the book, giving the book a real feel of authenticity.

The novel tells the tale of two young Chinese sisters, Sulan and May, who are sold into slavery by their father. Their new owner, Ming Yik, and his sadistic wife, Yook Lan, soon move to Vancouver, Canada. Ming Yik is trying to escape from his gangster past in China and sets up an illegal opium importing business in Canada. Yook Lan considers herself to be of royalty and treats the girls poorly. She beats them and degrades them at every opportunity.

Ming Yik is able for a time to hide his past, but eventually it catches up with him. He also has impregnated Sulan. She is taken out of the house by Yook Lan's lover (Ming Yik's nephew) and is left to fend for herself in a small town several miles away from Vancouver.

The girls have one driving force that helps them to endure their new life: Their mother gave each of them a piece of precious jade and ruby jewelry that she sewed into secret pockets in their clothes. The jewelry is a constant reminder of their mother's love. The girls hope to escape from the tyranny of their slave masters and to be reunited with their mother.

Does Sulan get reunited with May and her mother? Does evil befall Yook Lan? Do the police finally catch Ming Yik and close his opium import business? Who dies along the way? Lee has woven a book of tight intrigue, and I am not going to spoil it for you. You will have to read to find out. I highly recommend this fascinating book to all.

The Jade Rubies, by Valerie Lee, 2007 Pp 251, $21.95 (Lucky Eight Books; paperback; ISBN 978-1-60402-300-8)

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