The Vine Basket
Written by Josanne La Valley
Appropriate for those on a fifth grade reading level, The Vine Basket will appeal to those interested in learning about cultures in exotic lands. The unique setting – a rural community on the fringe of the Taklamaken Desert in East Turkestan (i.e., a little known region in China) – of this novel will expand the world view of just about any reader. It could be a useful addition to fifth grade social studies curriculum.
After her older brother fled the family after involvement in a protest against oppressive Chinese government, young Mehrigul is pulled from school to labor on her family farm. She dreams of returning to school, studying hard and getting a job in a museum to tell the story of her people, the Uyghur (pronounced wee gur). Deeply steeped in Uyghur culture, her family is trapped between the demands of the Chinese cadre and their basic needs. Fourteen-year-old Mehrigul shoulders the everyday burdens that her depressed ana (mother) and bitter ata (father) refuse to take responsibility for.
Mehrigul’s deepest fear is that she will be sent off to the factories to work, far from her family and her people. Her motivation is to protect her younger sister and to spare her from a hard life. When one of Mehrigul’s baskets is noticed and purchased by an American tourist, she gains hope. Her grandfather can be her mentor and teacher her the family tradition of basketry, but her father stands in her way. His refusal to allow her to work on or sell baskets feels like tyranny and, with much guilt, Mehrigul weaves baskets in secret.
This is the story of a young girl striving to prove herself to her family and herself. Although it presents universal concepts, The Vine Basket will be best for readers whose comprehension will not be challenged by foreign words and foreign concepts. This book, La Valley’s debut novel, portrays a little known ethnic struggle through the eyes of a fourteen-year-old. It successfully provides a window into the Uyghur culture and illustrates how a challenging situation can bring a family together.