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December 23, 2009 > Book Review: The Jade Rubies

Book Review: The Jade Rubies

A Book Review by Robert A. Garfinkle

I really liked this fascinating look into the world of Chinese immigrants to 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. The novel is the tale of two young Chinese sisters, Sulan and May, 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 and degrades them at every opportunity.

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.

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

Ms. Lee has woven a book of tight intrigue, and I'm not going to spoil it for you. You will have to read the book to find out.

One aspect of Ms. Lee's writing that I liked is the way that the author introduces us to Chinese terms and then uses them throughout the book. It gave the book authenticity. 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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