One of the attractions of The Chief’s Runaway Bride by Bijou Li is the insights it gives to daily living in a country as vast and underdeveloped as China. China is a rapidly developing country but this story takes place in 1942 at a time when there was a war in progress with the Japanese and a revolution in progress led by Mao Tse Tung. Marriage was the best time-tested and true way to stabilize shifting loyalties between factions and tribes. That is the situation Magnolia found herself in when she learned that Zhaxi, chief of the Mosuo tribe, had selected her to be his wife. Her father surprised her by saying that he could do nothing. If she did not marry the chief, the entire family fortune and social standing would suffer.
This is a very “safe” book for readers whose sensibilities do not want to be invaded by graphic sex and violence. There is nothing of the sort in this book. This is a sensitive, yet romantic, depiction of a portion of reality in a bygone age. I recommend this book to the YA crowd of course, but also to those who just want to read a good story without worrying what shock the next paragraph might bring. There are a few realities worth mentioning.
There is a tradition of a “walking marriage” as described in this novel. I became aware of it a few years ago in a CNN presentation from an author (it could have been this one) who described this tradition. When I came across it in this novel I attempted, unsuccessfully, to determine if this was the same source. In this novel Sadama, aunt of Zhaxi and confidant of Magnolia, mentions to Magnolia that the tradition of the “walking marriage” was good for the Mosuo women. Because they would never be dependent on a man for life’s necessities, they had to develop skills that would serve them as they existed independently.
I “bought” this book from Amazon at the great price of USD 0.00. When I get something for free, can I say I bought it? I gave this five Amazon stars due to the uniqueness of presentation, the well-written presentation, and just the good feeling I got from reading this novel. It is a “feel good” novel. And why not? It is not necessary that everything we read starkly challenges everything in the everyday reality we encounter. This novel is comfortable. It even has pandas that escape evil poachers. Things couldn’t be much cuter.