Lin Daiyu, shares her name with a girl in a Chinese folktale who died of a broken heart. Daiyu, believing the Daiyu in the story to be weak, hates her name, and promises herself that she will never be like that girl from the tale.
Daiyu’s perilous journey begins at age 13 in a small fishing village outside of Zhifu, China in the year 1882. Her parents disappear without an explanation, and she is forced to leave home for her own protection. Her grandmother cuts Daiyu’s hair, disguises her as a boy, and tells her “You are good with your hands–you will find honest work,” before sending her to roam the streets of Zhifu, alone. Daiyu becomes a street urchin boy called Feng, and takes her grandmother’s words to heart. After struggling to find anyone willing to hire a small orphan boy, she eventually attains some stability at a calligraphy school, where a renowned master imparts the holistic essence of the skill. Daiyu gains a newfound passion in the art of calligraphy.
Due to unfortunate circumstances driven by the deception and greed of others, her peace is short lived. While walking through the market one day, she is kidnapped and imprisoned, is forced to learn English, and is eventually smuggled into the United States in a coal barrel. The new country is an unfriendly and terrifying place for people who look like Daiyu. She knows that she must keep her true identity a secret, and she must trust no one if she wants any chance to find her way back home.
While this book portrays the wickedness and unfairness in the world, it also shows that it is possible to learn to love oneself, that family can be found in the most unlikely places, and that regaining the will to trust again can be achieved, even after one has been burned countless times.
This historical fiction stems from events related to the subjugation of early Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans in the United States during the 1880s. The atrocities committed by those in power rings all too familiar, as it has echoed in countless forms throughout all of history. While this story is incredibly heartrending, the narrative told in first person from Daiyu’s perspective is so earnest and authentic that readers will feel the profound pain, sorrow, and hope in her heart.
Tragic, and beautifully written, Four Treasures of the Sky is a story likely to sit with readers long after finishing the book.