The Jade Bracelet
Elsa Meier is a child of China. As the daughter of an American missionary and his wife in the 1930s, Elsa feels most at home in Chinese culture and has no urge to return to the United States. This makes for a great rift between Elsa and her mother, Rachel, who disapproves of her daughter’s “foreign” ways. But as the Communist invasion begins and World War II looms, the family is forced to flee their mission and ultimately return to America. The problems between mother and daughter intensify as Elsa’s father dies, and Elsa begins to make her own decisions about her life. Her mother disapproves of her choices, but when Elsa’s daughter Crystal is born, Rachel gives Crystal the love and affection she never gave her daughter. When Elsa gets a chance to return to China decades later, she hopes that by revisiting the past, she can find reconciliation for them all.
The description of Elsa’s childhood parallels the author’s youthful experiences; perhaps that is why the novel is so rich and detailed in the nuances of Chinese culture and in its descriptions of locations and sensations. Wall skillfully portrays the friction between three generations of women, and sensitively shows how understanding and forgiveness are able to heal old wounds. The inspirational element of the novel is present but not overwhelming. The book also credibly portrays Elsa’s transition from “being” Chinese to becoming American, with its discomfort, humiliation, and isolation vividly depicted. My only gripe is that I wish the writing had flowed more smoothly; I found it to be a bit choppy. Otherwise, this was a good piece of family/relationship drama fiction.