‘We cannot expect our old customs to remain forever.’
It’s 1911 and Ailin is living in a time of great change in China. A headstrong, determined child, Ailin rebels against the horrifying ancient tradition of having her feet bound. As a result, the family of her future husband immediately break off the engagement.
Ailin grows up realising just how powerless a girl is in Chinese society. But then she is offered an opportunity hat shockers her already estranged family and Ailin has to make a difficult, life-changing decision.
My review and thoughts
When I saw the blurb of this book when browsing in my school library, I was drawn by the storyline as I had previously read Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah who has written about her life story and many of her struggles are shared by the main character of this book. This book is quite a short, quick reads and intended for older children and pre-teens but I think that that because of the poignant message and theme that is carried through, readers of any age will be able to enjoy it and go away changed having read it.
When we first meet Ailin, the Third Daughter of the Tao family who narrates the story, she is five years old and s driving her family household mad running around and escaping from her Amah because she does not have bound feet yet even though she is past the standard age for it. Then her grandmother starts discussing the possibility of her betrothal to a young boy called Hanwei with his family and decided that it is time to have her feet bound to make her more attractive. However her older sister decides to show Ailin her severely deformed bound feet and she is shocked at the horrors and suffering that has been inflicted on her and vows never to let it happen to herself. When Ailin shows signs of rebellion her modern and progressive Father decides that she is allowed to keep her feet unbound although her arranged marriage is broken off by Hanwei’s traditional and distinguished family. Concerned for her future because she has no marriage prospects, her father sends her to public school which is almost unheard of for a young upper class Chinese girl like Ailin. She excels at English and her talent is noticed by a teacher who takes special interest in Ailin. However her life takes a turn for the worst at the age of 12 when a tragedy occurs and her disapproving and brutal Uncle becomes head of the household, who has always heavily criticised Ailin's father for wasting money sending a girl to school. Having power over everyone living under the roof, it is up to him to decide Ailin’s future as she has no way to support herself without education.
Ailin was an inspirational character who had a headstrong and determined character that helped her to be brave in times of her life. I found myself really caring about what happened to her and sympathising with her trials and struggles; I shared her loneliness and depression as well as moments of happiness and hope. She is the kind of character that you would feel privileged to meet.
The author’s simple but refreshing way of writing was very effective and Ailin’s narration made it very easy for her emotions to be conveyed. Everything seemed very realistic through the description of foot binding and other traditions and social tensions within an upper class Chinese family. It could almost have been a true story because of the well rounded and convincing characters and research that the book must have taken. I felt like I was entering a different world throughout the book and in the historical note at the end on the practice of foot binding, I was shocked to find that in some areas the practice still continued into the 1940s and it reminded me how lucky we are to be living in the 21st century.
Verdict:Ties that Bind Ties that Break is a short but memorable and impacting story of a young, strong willed Chinese girl who rebels against the horrific tradition of feet binding and her journey to finding her place in the world. Although very interesting, I felt that it could have been longer and more developed.
Stephanie (Books Are A Girl's Best Friend)