Tuesday, July 24, 2018

“The Secret Language of Women” by Nina Romano – Daggers in the Heart of Fate

Nina Romano's Star-Crossed Lovers

Scientists have been trying for a while to isolate the physical processes accompanying what we call love, and for the most part, they've managed to boil it down to a few chemicals firing in some receptors. Nevertheless, it's a mystery we have yet to pierce completely down to its very core, for we are still having trouble quantifying what makes us fall in love with any specific person... often times, it happens without rhyme, reason or warning, which is the main reason it can be equally tragic and beautiful. As a matter of fact, innumerable stories of star-crossed lovers populate bookshelves around the entire world, offering authors the perfect canvas to explore many aspects of human nature as well as history. Nina Romano is an author who took that canvas and turned it into a real wonder with her historical romance novel titled The Secret Language of Women , the first entry into the Wayfarer Trilogy.

The story opens at the end of the 19 th century in China, verging on what would become known as the Boxer Rebellion, a few year-period of turmoil. We are introduced to Zhou Bin Lian, a seventeen-year-old girl who accompanies her Swiss father to the Summer Palace of Empress Dowager to give the Italian ambassador a hand. While posted there she makes the acquaintance of an Italian sailor, Giacomo Scimenti, and love takes no time to blossom between them. As their love grows increasingly intense, Lian must cut it all out for she was promised as a wife to another, a duty she intends to fulfill to the bitter end. Discriminated against because her feet aren't bound, she is made to forgo her profession of healer to work in a factory. Using the language of women, Nushu, she begins to chronicle her existence, the great hopes she has for her future, and finally begins to take charge of her destiny and live for her own self.

The Overlooked History of China

Having been educated in the Western world, I personally don't remember ever being taught much about Chinese history, save for the biggest and most important events. It ultimately remained a country veiled in mystery for me, a nearly-alien world apart from mine for a very long time. It wasn't until more recently when I began to immerse myself more profoundly in Asian history in general and realized it was just as intriguing as any antiquity could be.

I believe Nina Romano feels the same way, at least to a certain extent, because the care she took in researching everything she could about China at the dawn of the 20th century is absolutely spectacular, and what's more she aptly weaves it all into the story.

From one page after the next, as we follow Lian on her journey we are treated to a nearly-endless stream of tidbits and pieces of information touching on virtually every aspect of life back in those days. We witness the fabled eastern architecture in all of its glory, the people trying to stay afloat from one day to the next, the morals they carried with them throughout their lives, the various beliefs spurred forth by intertwining cultures, the Nushu which is a type of writing used exclusively by women in a part of China, and the dynamics which governed the country from top to bottom. We even get a large enough overview of the Boxer Rebellion and its consequences, but without ever devolving into boring and long-winded paragraphs. All in the information is conveyed at the proper pace and at the right time. Part of this book definitely feels like we're being taken on a guided tour of China during a strange and turbulent time, one where the guide (Nina Romano) knows how to make you pay attention.

Women, Love and Courage

As was the case with virtually every country in the world at that point in time, the inequality between men and women was extremely pronounced, subjecting the latter to countless cruel and even torturous rules and practices under threat of being shunned from society for not adhering to them. We get a real good look at that specific aspect of Chinese society through Lian's discriminated existence, and as we follow her from one cruel duty to the next we develop a true sense of compassion for what she and countless other women had (and still have in some cases) to endure. Thankfully it's not all dark and bleak as we eventually see her rise above the powers which sought to control her during her entire life. While I suppose I'm not entirely qualified to know about the struggles women have and do face around the world, it feels like Lian's story is their compelling embodiment.

Speaking of Lian's story, it's at times a little easy to forget there is a whole plot besides the historical and societal explorations of the author. While there is certainly a whole lot of historical knowledge compounded in this book, the plot always keeps moving forward at a steady pace with the author knowing how to create compelling sources of danger and conflict. The world Lian lives in is a brutal one, with natural catastrophes, a violent uprising and few chances for anyone to find true happiness. Her quest for freedom certainly doesn't come without a price, and seeing her character walk the long path from a naive seventeen-year-old girl to an empowered and confident woman is believable and enjoyable in every sense of the word.

The Final Verdict

All in all, The Secret Language of Women is much more than just a historical romance novel. It contains a veritable wealth of engaging details about virtually all aspects of life in China at the turn of the nineteenth century. At the same time it offers a profoundly touching and engaging plot centred on a woman's difficult and pricey journey to empowerment. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys romance novels of a darker and more cerebral nature.

Between the Covers - Nina Romano interview

Nina Romano

Nina Romano

Personal site

Nina Romano is an author with an M.A. From Adelphi University, as well as a B.A and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Florida International University. Her worldly travels and twenty years spent in Rome have inspired her to write a few poetry collections including Coffeehouse Meditations and She Wouldn't Sing at My Wedding. She has also authored a series of novels in the Wayfarer trilogy, starting with the widely-acclaimed The Secret Language of Women.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful review! I've always wondered about how much research you put into your books Nina. Not enough, would detract from the story. I'm impressed that you are so informational in the history and customs of the land and the characters.Congratulations!