Miss Chopsticks by Xinran (2007)

“In my village, girls are called “chopsticks” and boys “roof-beams”. They all say that girls are no good because a chopstick can’t support a roof.”

Three runs away from her family when they want to marry her to someone she doesn’t love. She comes from the countryside to Nanjing, where the good people under the Willow Tree finds her a job in a restaurant based on her skills in decoration. When her parents see the money she is earning, they send along her younger sisters, Five (who never went to school and is considered as the dumbest of the sisters) and Six (who is the only girl in the village to have finished middle school) and they also have great success with finding work in the big city.

The novel follows the sisters while they settle with their different jobs. Six is my favourite sister, but I also loved Five for her courage and teaching herself ways of learning the things she needs when she is illiterate. Six works in a tea house with plenty of books where many foreigners choose to study. The tea house has a guest book where the guests often write jokes and the jokes definitely made me laugh. I never felt that I really got to know Three, although she is the first one you get to know.

The novel is not just about the three sisters finding their way in Nanjing, but also gives an excellent insight in the complex modern China. Modern life meets ancient traditions, proverbs and superstitions. One could also peak into the secret life of the Chinese who do not completely agree with the Communist Party. Xinran based the characters on girls she knew had moved to Nanjing to find work and the introduction and afterwords tell their story. Such a great book!