Bronze and Sunflower, by Cao Wenxuan, is a book about two young people growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. During that period of time, many artists were relocated to “Cadre Schools” (labor camps) in the countryside. Sunflower’s father was an artist, a sculptor that created beautiful bronze sunflowers, (he loved sunflowers and that’s why he named his daughter after them) and he was one of the artists that was removed from the city.
So Sunflower moved with her father, along with many other relocated city people, to the shores of a big river. Directly across the river was a small country village, and she watched the people, and especially the children, from the reed covered riverbank. When Sunflower’s father died, there was no place for her in the town, so some of the aunties in the town took her across the river to the village, and sat with her in the village square hoping that someone would take her in. There were two families in the village that showed an interest in “adopting” her. One was a wealthier family, but their son had been a bully to her. The other family was an impoverished family, and their son, Bronze, wanted Sunflower to become his sister. Bronze was a strong, kind, and intelligent boy, but he was mute since a traumatic experience when he was younger. Sunflower had come to know him through interactions on the river bank, and when the decision as to which family would become her new family, she chose Bronze’s family.
And she became a dearly loved member of that family — a family that was poor, but with a huge heart. Life was not easy for this family, but they had great dignity and compassion, were hardworking and resilient, and they loved Sunflower deeply.
The story of this family facing the difficulties of poverty and famine, and the warm relationship between Sunflower and her new brother, Bronze, is both heartfelt and moving. Bronze protected her and kept her safe from the town bully; they worked together to help to grow and gather food for the family; Sunflower taught Bronze how to read and write (because he was mute, he was not allowed to go to school); and they shared the joys of being children of the countryside.
It is a lovely story. One reviewer said it should be considered for a Newbery honor, and I would agree with that idea. It certainly was an honest and heartfelt immersion into a different culture and time.
I recommend it highly.
I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This book was written by a much loved children’s book author from CHINA.