Author: Mingmei Yip
Published: May 29, 2012
Trade Paperback: $15.00
AAP staff report
Skeleton Women (Kensington Publishing), is the fourth novel from Mingmei Yip and being released this week.
It is the story of Camilla, an orphan girl in Shanghai who is adopted into the world of the skeleton women, beautiful and gifted ‘femmes fatales’ of China’s past. After maturing what seems like a rescue into a life of luxury is revealed to be the control of an underworld crime boss. She is used to lure the attention of a rival crime boss.
Mingmei’s books share a common theme of displaying the inner strength and fortitude of women born into a life by design and become determined to decide their own fate.
Skeleton Women follows Song of the Silk Road published in 2011. The heroine is Lily, an unpublished professional writer working as a waitress in New York City, who receives a letter from an aunt in China with an offer of money to complete a series of tasks in China’s Taklamakan Desert region.
Petals From The Sky, Mingmei’s second novel, was published in 2010. The protagonist, Du Meng Ning, earns her master’s of art degree in Paris, and intends to become a Buddhist nun in Hong Hong. She encounters a great adventure that is almost autobiographical of Mingmei’s own life experiences.
In her first English language novel, Peach Blossom Pavilion, published in 2008, Xiang Xiang is the protagonist of a love story about the last courtesan in China.
Mingmei Yip was born to a scholarly Chinese family. Her father was a professional gambler with a degree in singing from the Beijing Military Defense Conservatory and her mother was an aspiring artist. Yip received her Doctorate from the University of Paris, Sorbonne, on a full academic scholarship from the French Government.
Upon returning to Hong Kong, she held faculty appointments at the Chinese University and Baptist University in Hong Kong. In 2005, she received a research fellowship to the International Institute of Asian Studies in the Netherlands.
Before writing her four English language novels, Yip was a print columnist for major Hong Kong newspapers and published five books in Chinese. She has also appeared on television and radio programs in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mainland China, and the U.S.
After meeting her husband at a Buddhist conference Yip immigrated to the United States in 1992, and now lives in New York City. Her novels have been translated to nine languages so far including Chinese and Russian. Find out more at www.mingmeiyip.com.
An Interview with Mingmei Yip
Asian American Press: How did you come to choose the setting for this novel and what work did you do to learn enough to depict it well enough to put your readers there?
Mingmei Yip: Skeleton Women, is a Chinese phrase for femmes fatales. My story is about three of them: Camilla, a nightclub singer who has been forced to become a spy, Shadow a magician who jumps naked off a tall building, and a gender-ambiguous gossip columnist. All must scheme in order to survive the gang wars in lawless 1930ies Shanghai.
AAP: How is Camilla different from the lead characters of your other books.
MY: Camilla in Skeleton Women is very different from the heroines of my other novels because she is trained to get rid of all emotions. All she is allowed to possess is the “four nothings,” no friends, no identity, no emotion, no scruples.
So Camilla cannot allow herself to feel for other people. But because of her love of books, she has gained wisdom based on years of studying the Art of War, the Thirty-Six Stratagems, and other ancient guides to survival amidst adversity.
She knows that to have a chance at a happy life, she must escape from the gangs and the violence that surround her. So she relies on the guidance of the ancient Chinese sages to plan her escape – and in the process learns love and compassion.
Camilla is quite unlike the heroines of my earlier novels. Lily Lin in Song of the Silk Road loves men too easily. Meng Ning in Petals from the Sky wants a detached life as a Buddhist nun but falls in love with a man. Precious Orchid in Peach Blossom Pavilion lost her loving parents as a teenager, was forced into prostitution, and longed for true love.
Despite my female protagonists’ different destinies, they are alike in their determination to triumph over adversity and maintain their hope to seek happiness even when the situation is bleak.
AAP: How did you come to choose the setting for this novel?
MY: Skeleton Women is set in the same era – the 1930ies Shanghai – as my Chinese geisha novel Peach Blossom Pavilion. To me, this was the most glamorous and the sexiest era and location in China. Rich businessmen, influential politicians, powerful crime lords, and women entertainers like singers, movie stars, courtesans, all interacted in a dangerously complicated configuration.
In the 1930ies Shanghai, anything could happen, and so it is a great setting for novels.
AAP: What work did you do to learn enough to depict it well enough to put your readers there?
MY: Because Skeleton Women is a crime novel and a thriller with rival gangs trying to topple one another, I did a lot of research on the life of the underworld – their businesses such as opium, gambling, prostitution, rickshaws, firearms – and their relationships with corrupt politicians, police, as well as their secret ceremonies and hand signals.
Camilla, a spy who works for one gang to eliminate another, devises her strategies to outwit her rivals and escape based on ancient Chinese classics.