Review: Unbound

Unbound: A Tale of Love and Betrayal in Shanghai


The sweeping, multigenerational story of two iron-willed women, a grandmother and granddaughter, Unbound is also a richly textured, turbulent portrait of the city of Shanghai in the twentieth century—a place where everyone must fight to carve out a place for themselves amid political upheaval and the turmoil of war.

​Mini Pao lives with her sister and parents in a pre-war Shanghai divided among foreign occupiers and Chinese citizens, a city known as the “Paris of the East” with its contrast of  vibrant night life and repressive social mores. Already considered an old maid at twenty-three, Mini boldly rejects the path set out for her as she struggles to provide for her family and reckons with her desire for romance and autonomy. Mini’s story of love, betrayal, and determination unfolds in the Western-style cafes, open-air markets, and jazz-soaked nightclubs of Shanghai—the same city where, decades later, her granddaughter Ting embarks on her own journey toward independence. 

Ting Lee has grown up behind an iron curtain in a time of scarcity, humility, and forced-sameness in accordance with the strictures of Chairman Mao’s cultural revolution. As a result, Ting’s imagination burns with curiosity about fashion, America, and most of all, her long-lost grandmother Mini’s glamorous past and mysterious present. As her thirst for knowledge about the world beyond 1970s Shanghai grows, Ting is driven to uncover her family’s tragic past and face the difficult truth of what the future holds for her if she remains in China. 

Rating: 5-stars


Unbound by Dina Gu Brumfield is a heartfelt women’s fiction story. The story holds three women at the center. The grandmother, the mother, and the daughter are all key. Each one had to learn how to be strong and to survive. The grandmother struggled but didn’t give up. The mother did better but her daughter survived the best. The granddaughter is stronger of the three women because she learned from the other two. She is independent and smart.

I loved how family was the central theme in this novel. Love and loss are the other two themes and it was heartbreaking following the story. Each woman’s life story unwinds into the other. However, the grandmother and her granddaughter take up most of the book. The writing was easy to get lost within and the characters were interesting. I wanted to know as much as possible about Mini and Ting. The culture of the Chinese people and their government could be felt on every page. It was scary. The future was unknown due to the Chinese communist government. Yet the characters still took as much control of their lives as possible. Overall, it was a great story!

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