A River of Stars and other unnecessary details

Genre: structureless. Stars from Goodreads: 3.71. Stars from me: 3.

Reading mediocre books is like being around toxic people. They are never too bad to be dropped straight away. By the time you realise they will never change, you already have lost too much time and energy.

That’s what happened when I was reading A River or Stars by Vanessa Hua. The book is not that bad. It actually introduced me to more aspects of a culture than it probably intended to. I don’t mean straightforward information like the facts about the life of Chinese people in rural areas, or the fact that Chinese people born in rural areas are not allowed to work or study in the cities (is it really so?!) There are other, more subtle cultural aspects noticeable in the book. For example, a man is still considered a good father figure even though he calls his previous children by ordinal numbers. He doesn’t care enough to refer to them by names because they are female.

A River of Stars promised to be way more dynamic than it actually was. Pregnant women on a run in a foreign country sounded like a story with possible adventures. The adventures never happened. The book does start with several fast-paced events but it soon falls apart into many irrelevant flashbacks from different characters which, while exposing the characters, still leave them looking flat and underdeveloped, probably because the characters themselves rarely do anything. They float around the book like oil stains on water, flashing their memories and tweaking their existence until everything arrives to a culmination that would have happened anyway even if they had remained absolutely still. One character’s life is parallel to the plot. The character is not really knitted into the plot but not dropped from it either. Another character’s behavior puzzles both readers and characters but is never explained.

The writing is decent. The sentences don’t look like written by a graduate from ‘How to be a popular writer’ course. The style is genuine and flowing. The phrases are nicely built. They just don’t have a structure to convey. There are tons of details and descriptions scattered across the book but they never play any role. They are sort of Chekhov’s guns gone wrong. The events with a potential to some salience are described distantly and monotonously as if the author herself is bored with telling them. The backward, flashback-based storytelling makes the book sound like those long detailed monologues of people who you can’t escape from because of some social situation. As soon as you allow yourself to skip a paragraph, it turns out you missed some important information, so you have to return and go through the boring part again.

I wouldn’t suggest A River of Stars to anybody. Even though it’s not a bad book, it still takes time that could be spent on a really good one.

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