The following are discussion questions provided by the publisher:
Women of the Silk:
1. One of Gail Tsukiyama’s talents is her ability to reveal a whole world and a culture though subtle details. This novel opens with a very graphic scene, in which Pei’s mother gives birth to yet another daughter. How does this one scene introduce the dynamics in Pei’s family-and thus a Chinese family-to its audience? What details are important and what larger issues do they signify?
2. The theme of the Chinese family remains in the foreground of the novel throughout. Once Pei arrives at the girls’ house how does her own experience in her family compare to the other girls’ experiences? Mei-li’s family, for example?
3. Once Pei arrives at the girls’ house she is struck by the fact that all the girls there look the same-same hairstyle, same clothes. How does this homogeneity affect Pei? For example, examine the scene where Pei looks at herself in the mirror for the first time after being dressed like the others.
4. What are the dynamics between the girls at the silk house? For example, how does Moi affect the girls? How do they regard Chen-Li?
5. On page 90, Lin’s mother is described as having lost her “voice” after her husband’s death. What implications does this statement have? How does it relate, for example, to Pei’s later statement that her own family remained “silent”-meaning they never responded to Pei’s letter, nor did they ever come to visit her.
6. Compare the hairdressing ceremony with the wedding ceremony of Lin’s brother. How are they similar or different, and what do they symbolize?
7. What drives Pei to participate in the hairdressing ceremony and join “the sisterhood?”
8. What does the ending scene, with Pei leaving for a “new life” in Hong Kong, suggest? How does it affect the way you view the novel and Pei’s progress?
The Language of Threads
1. When Pei and Ji Shen first arrive in Hong Kong, they meet the rickshaw boy, Quan, who takes them to their boarding house. How does he represent the bustling city of Hong Kong and what role does he play in both Pei and Ji Shen’s life?
2. Discuss how the sisterhood was able to thrive in Hong Kong after the demise of the silk villages in China. How were they able to remain a unionized faction?
3. Why is Pei determined that Ji Shen get an education rather than immediately become a domestic servant? How does this put a strain on their relationship?
4. Pei first goes to work for a Chinese family, which ends in disgrace. She then goes to work for an English woman, Mrs. Finch, whom she grows to love. What are some of the distinctions in each household and how does Pei cope in each?
5. Discuss how Pei, Ji Shen, and Mrs. Finch become a tight-knit family of their home despite social differences.
6. Discuss Mrs. Finch’s internment at Stanley camp. How did they function within the camp? How do Pei and Ji Shen make her imprisonment more comfortable?
7. Ji Shen becomes involved with a man named Lock and the black market in Hong Kong during the occupation. In what ways does Pei try to get her out of it? Does she succeed?
8. Why do you think Pei refuses Lin’s brother Ho Yung’s offer of marriage?
9. After the war and Mrs. Finch’s death, Pei becomes an invisible mender or seamstress rather than returning to work as a domestic servant. How does her new business turn her life around?
10. Pei’s friend Lin remains a powerful memory throughout the book. The past is never far from her mind. How does the bond between her and Pei effect the way Pei lives her life?