Reading Recommendations: Chinese Whiskers, a novel, Pallavi Aigar
Soyabean is a very large tabby known for always being hungry, a middle-class cat looked after by a grandmother who embodies traditional Chinese morality. Shy Tofu is born to a stray-cat mother in a backyard dustbin. They are brought together when they are both adopted by a family of expats, who live in a traditional style courtyard house in Beijing's traditional hutong neighborhoods. Then, Soyabean is offered a job as a model for a new brand of cat food, while at the same time, a mysterious virus is sickening people across the city, and cats are blamed and rounded up. Soyabean and Tofu idyllic lives as pampered pets come to an abrupt end as they suddenly have to face the harsh realities of other cats dying, homelessness, the difficulties of communicating with humans, and finding their purpose.
Interweaving real episodes in recent Chinese history, such as the Olympic Games, the SARS virus and tainted pet food scandals, with a richly imagined world, this heartwarming story of cats and humans will make you laugh and tear up, while showing the battles fought between the corruption of modern living and the ideas of traditional life.
Chinese Whiskers is a precious, beautifully illustrated book that will appeal to cat lovers of all ages, while also drawing in those readers interested in recent changes in China through astutely observed elements of history and culture.
And, Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, a novel, Jennifer Chiaverini
In a life that spanned nearly a century and witnessed some of the most momentous events in American history, Elizabeth Hobbs Kechley was born a slave. She earned her freedom by the skill of her needle and won the friendship of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln with her devotion. In her sweeping historical novel, Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, New York Times best selling author Jennifer Chiaverini illuminates the extra ordinary relationship the two women shared, beginning in the hallowed halls of the White House during the trials of the Civil War and enduring almost, but not quite, to the end of Mrs. Lincoln's days.
Elizabeth Kechley made her professional reputation in Washington, D.C. making expertly fashioned dresses for the city's elite, among them Mrs. Jefferson Davis and Mrs. Robert E. Lee. In March 1861, Mrs. Lincoln chose her from among numerous applicants to be her personal "modiste," responsible for creating the First Lady's beautiful gowns and dressing her for important occasions. In this role, Elizabeth Kechley was quickly drawn into the intimate life of the Lincoln family, a clear eyed but compassionate witness to events within the private quarters of the White House.
Ever loyal to the Union, Elizabeth Kechley hid her fears when her only son, George, enlisted with the First Missouri Volunteers, and his courage in battle inspired her to bold new endeavour. When tens of thousands of former slaves sought refuge in Washington, she cared for them in their squalid camps, taught them sewing and other necessary skills, founded the Contraband Relief Association, to which Mary Todd Lincoln was a generous contributor, and worked tirelessly to raise money so that the struggling freed men could embrace their new found liberty. All the while Elizabeth Kechley supported the First Lady through years of war, political strife, and devastating personal losses, even as she endured heart breaking tragedies of her own. Even more caring, Kechley not only made history, but also wrote it, in her own words. The publication of her memoir, Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty years a Slave, and Four years in the White House, placed her at the center of a scandal she never intended. The sensational fallout distanced the longtime confidantes, and for the rest of her days Elizabeth Kechley sought redemption through living an exemplary life.