BOOK CLUB: The Diary of Katy Yehonala

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“The Diary of Katy Yehonala” by Robert Barclay is one of our latest Beauty and Lace book club reads. Barclay writes with passion and commitment about historical events in China, and it is this that will keep most readers interested.

May-ling “Katy” Yehonala is a Manchurian, born in China in 1966. In the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution, her well-off family first loses everything, and then is given a chance to recover and rebuild. Katy matures as China is starting to look more to the outside world, and has the opportunity to travel to England to study. This period shapes her life.

Although the blurb describes this as a saga about three generations, Katy’s mother received very little attention, and her daughter even less. Both were really depicted only in passing, and in relationship to Katy. This was Katy’s story. Indeed, it’s told in the first person by Katy.

At times this felt like a history text rather than a story about a real person; fascinating details abounded, but I didn’t feel I was reading about things happening to someone. Historical events in China were related in the tone of a history book, rather than the way someone would talk about their own life. I found it interesting, but mostly because I’ve some interest in Chinese history.

However, this was one of the strengths of the novel: the painstaking historical background is well-drawn, and many details help illuminate the events of the period. Barclay has clearly taken a lot of effort to make sure he gets these things right.

Despite its flaws, I found the novel interesting, and the dance through recent Chinese history worthwhile. I think how much you enjoy this novel will depend very much on the expectations you bring to it.

ISBN: 978-1-922594-68-6

Copy courtesy of Shawline Publishing Group (2021)

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading The Diary of Katy Yehonala by Robert BarclayYou can read their comments below, or add your own review.

21 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: The Diary of Katy Yehonala

  1. From the moment I picked up “The diary of Katy Yehonala” by Robert Barclay I struggled to put it down. I was entranced by the character of Katy as she described those people that came before her or influenced her as well as the next generation to come after her, her daughter Clara. To describe the book simply as a saga of 3 generations of extraordinary women is an understatement as it intertwines with the history of China and Katy’s brief time in England, Cambodia Nigeria and Australia, but focuses throughout on the family ties that bind us together and the events throughout our lives that change us or our course.
    Thank you Beauty and Lace Bookclub, Shawline Publishing Group and Robert Barclay for the opportunity to read and review “The diary of Katy Yehonala”.

    1. Dear Amanda, thank you for the glowing review of Katy’s Diary. Also, especially pleased you were able to read deeper into what the story was about. I hope the book will inspire you to follow their lives in the second book due around mid-year. Sincerely, Robert

  2. Robert Barclay has done an amazing job with The Diary of Katy Yehonala. Each time I had to put the book down I longed to be back reading and once I was back reading I felt that Katy had really allowed me into her heart. I understood her and wanted only the best for her and her loved ones.
    Through Katy’s engrossing Diary we learn about her Grandmother and her Mother. We see their strengths and how their struggles make Katy the woman that she becomes and in turn how Katy’s daughter becomes the person she is. The generations before us have an impact and make us who we are.
    Through this story we travel to many different nations and get to learn a little about various cultures and the peoples struggles through political turmoil.
    I find this book to be so very embracing. I was sad when I reached the last page. It was educational in regards to political situations, different cultures, and different ways of thinking.
    The Diary of Katy Yehonala is simply a book you must read. My life is better for having read this book.

    1. Dear Meedee. I was thrilled to read your review of Katy’s Diary and I have been able to make Katy memorable for you. It is a book I loved writing, and the story itself as one “through the ages” of people’s lives and so pleased you enjoyed the storytelling. Sincerely, Robert

  3. Robert Barclay has written a wonderful novel this book is truly amazing
    The story of three powerful women and their struggles through life
    A beautiful story taking the reader to different times and locations throughout the world
    China England Cambodia Australia different places and cultures
    The Diary Of Katy Yehonla is one of the best books I have ever read

    1. Dear Deborah, your review and compliments on Katy’s Diary are deeply appreciated by me, thank you so much. Katy’s story has inspired me for a very long time, and though a novel, bringing it to life in the book has been a wonderful journey. Sincerely, Robert

  4. I enjoyed “The diary of Katy Yehonala”. It is the story of Katy, growing up in a rural village in China. The descriptive writing creates a mental picture of her childhood life, events in China at that time. It also covers Katy’s mother and daughter and their life experiences. I liked the way the story tied in with historical events. Educational and entertaining.

    Thanks Beauty and Lace for the opportunity to read and review.

    1. Hello Faye, I’m so happy you enjoyed the book; they were times most of us knew little about and I’m glad I could bring a little of a different life to you in a “novel” way. I hope you will also enjoy Katy and Clara’s trials and tribulations in the next book. Thank you for the generous review. Best regards, Robert

  5. The Diary of Katy Yehonala gives a fascinating insight into the life of a Chinese girl during and after the Cultural Revolution in China, as well as her later life in Western countries.
    More memoir than diary, we travel with Katy as she and her family are sent to the north of China as punishment for being wealthy and educated during Mao’s Communist regime. The harrowing, shocking treatment they endured explores a dark time in Chinese history.
    Later, Katy goes to university in England, where she learns English customs and is introduced to a different culture around sex and relationships. She holidays in the wine region of France, and, much later in her life, becomes involved with a charity in Cambodia which attempts to stop sex trafficking of children. Finally, she settles in Australia.
    Katy’s mother and daughter take centre stage at times, both strong and talented women in their own right. Katy’s connection to her parents and ancestors is a constant thread throughout, defining many of her choices. It is also a love story and a tale of commitment and sacrifice.
    For me, the most interesting part of Katy’s life was her Chinese background and the family’s experiences in different parts of China. In my opinion, the Cambodian and Australian journeys could have been a novel in their own right rather than almost a postscript at the end.
    I enjoyed this book with its beautiful descriptions and excellent research into different cultures and history. Thank you to Shawline Publishing Group for the opportunity to read such an engaging and interesting book.

    1. Dear Lyn, thank you so much for the kind review of Katy’s Diary and your insights into the story. I think you have captured what I wanted the book to be about – love, family and sacrifice. I take your point about “the Cambodian and Australian journeys” being a novel in their own right. The second book, follows their lives and is very much about their journey in those places, or Cambodia, at least. Best regards, Robert

  6. Thank you to Beauty and Lace and Shawline publishing for my copy.

    I really loved this book, spanning three generations of strong women, two Manchu and one Eurasian. The story starts in China in the 1970’s and involves the Yehonala family including Baba, Mama and their daughter, May-ling (Katy). They are a well off family that are sent to a working prison known as a Chinese gulag near North China’s Changbai mountains. The author describes the harsh living and working conditions really well, but also the beauty of the surrounding mountains and nature. The family have to work hard having lost everything, but it also seems like an adventure at the same time.
    The story is told through Katy and gives the history of China for her era as well as her grandparents. Katy’s mother is a strong, refined beautiful Manchu woman and her looks have been passed down to Katy. Katy’s family also have a woman, Granny Chen, living with them that is their maid/housekeeper. Granny Chen used to be Nurse Chen for Baba when he worked in the hospital as Dr Ye and she stays with the family and is their “rock”. She, like the other women is strong and a real character that holds the family together. Chinese culture features strongly throughout the book as does the clash of cultures when Katy goes to England to study. She has to adapt to a completely different lifestyle on the other side of the world.
    Katy ends up having a daughter Xiaoli (Clara) who is mixed race and a talented, intelligent child. The story spans over China, England, Vietnam and eventually Australia and is one big adventure which captivated me from the start.
    I loved the author’s writing style, so descriptive and beautiful. I had to keep reminding myself that the book was written by a man, not a woman as it felt that way. I hope the author takes that as a compliment. The acknowledgements at the front of the book are worth reading and it’s interesting to find out that both Katy and Clara are modeled on real people. I will be looking forward to the sequel coming out this year called The Orphanage of Secrets.
    5 stars

    1. Hello Tracy, thank you for the wonderful review and overview of the story. I do indeed take it as a compliment that you could relate so well to the strong women in the story, however I confess to having two book-mad women who were diligent in ensuring neither Katy nor Clara lost their gender [or their feistiness] in the storytelling. I hope you will equally enjoy the Orphanage story around mid-year when Katy and Clara leave their footprints in another distant land.

  7. Thank you to Beauty and Lace and Shawline publishing for my copy. And an added extra thanks for the presentation of the book – wrapped beautifully in brown paper and a lovely note to me from the author which gave this book an extra special feel to it.

    The Diary of Katy Yehonala gave me a deep insight into the ways of the Chinese culture and such strong female characters. Katy’s mother and the woman who lives with them ‘Granny Chen’ are strong role models for Katy which is a prominent theme throughout the book. We follow the family who are sent to a a working prison known as a Chinese gulag near North China’s Changbai mountains – no matter what they face each day they and their spirit is never broken. When they are released and can return home everything is different. They are soon faced with the death of Baba and Katy’s mum decides it is time for Katy to go and study in England. Katy faces the difference between the Chinese and English cultures yet manages to adapt to her new life quite well.

    In time Katy ends up having a daughter Xiaoli (Clara) who is mixed race. Xiaoli is a talented and intelligent child. The story spans over China, England, Vietnam and then Australia.
    The journey of Katy is an adventure that captivated and had me enthralled from the very start.

    1. Dear Catherine. I’m so pleased you enjoyed reading Katy’s story, I think those times were a period few westerners ever knew a lot about and there are so many amazing stories to be told. It was pure joy writing the story and trying to bring the characters to life, [except for the more stressful bits] made more so because you as a reader stepped along their journey with me. Kindest regards, Robert

  8. What a truly enchanting, entertaining, and insightful book., it has been a while since I have had a book capture my full attention, I just loved it and found it hard to put down. I loved the introduction; it tweaked my memories of world events I had long forgotten and set the scene for the book.
    I loved Katy, she was portrayed as a good Chinese daughter, but it also portrayed her to be a strong woman able to move between cultures as she matured. The story was very believable and written in such a way that the reader was easily able to follow and almost see the world as it was.
    The story follows the life struggles under the harsh Communist Rule where Katy and her parents are sent to prison camp for simply being wealthy and then released some years later to be restored to their station in life. The story is interesting that it covers much ground in a lifetime for one person, but the story does keep you interested.
    It tackles the hard reality of a young single Chinese women traveling to England to study and must deal with all the differences in culture. The story focused mostly on Katy, but in the first part of the book did focus on the strength of family, and I feel this strength of family was a focal point of the story and will again be the basis for the follow-up books. The strength of character is also important as that is needed to manage the change in cultures and of how a young Chinese girl matures in a western society.
    Thank you, Beauty and Lace, and Shawline Publishing for sending me a copy of this wonderful book to review. I can’t recommend more highly that if you are looking for an interesting book that is able to pinpoint a point in time that we all remember in this lifetime and world events then this is the one.

    1. Hello Teresa. Your review of my book was quite uplifting for me, and I was delighted you enjoyed the story, thank you. You are right, family is the essential part of Katy’s makeup in all its positive and sometimes damaging elements as she makes her stumbling way through life. As the next story is told it is family again that drives the tale, expanded into Katy and Clara’s love of a broader “family”. I hope you will like the continuing storytelling as much. Sincerely, Robert

  9. Thank you Beauty and Lace and Shawline Publishing.
    Thank you to Robert Shaw for the incredible story and for the personalized inscription to each reader.

    The Diary of Katy Yehonala is a story of May-ling but it is also a story of the incredible strengths of three women and mostly it’s about family. It gives you an insight into Chinese culture and the realities of life in those harsh times.

    The Diary of Katy Yehonala will draw you in as you travel along the life of Katy beginning with the story when Katy was a small child listening as she learns about her grandfather. Living and coping with life during the reign of Chairman Mao and the affects on her and her family.

    The feelings of warmth and love that bind the family together are strong and you feel this all the way through the story.

    This book is so well written that at times I was so engrossed in it all that I would forget it was a story and not an actual account of Katy’s life written by Katy. Robert you have stunned me with your words, it’s easy to forget that this was written by a man. Your tenderness for writing a story from a females perspective shines through. I can’t wait to read more from you.

    This is one of those stories that will stay with you long after you’ve finished the book.
    I’ve already re read parts of it again as I felt I was pulled so much into the story by emotion that I missed parts of the story.

    1. *Sorry Robert Barclay. As I pressed enter I immediately saw where I hadn’t fixed my mistake of your name. Please accept my apologies.

      1. Don’t give it a thought Ann-Marie, I am always mortified when I forget a name or mis-spell one which I hate to admit I do more than I should. Friends ignore, acquaintances forgive and no one else matters.

    2. Dear Anne-Marie. I was transported back to the story with your review, exactly as I lived the story while writing. I had the good fortune of spending years of my life in China, and Cambodia, and wanted most of all to tell a story through a novel most of us will never experience but is real to millions of people. I hope you will enjoy the second book, a story as meaningful to me as Katy’s. Clara features more and her life takes centre stage in the Orphanage of Secrets. Best regards, Robert

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