For The Vine Basket, her first novel, Josanne La Valley drew on personal experience to present the heartfelt story of a young girl in Xinjiang, a region the Uyghur people call East Turkestan. On a trip to visit local craftspeople, the author met a young Uyghur girl who offered her a peach as the girl’s grandfather wove a traditional willow basket. When La Valley learned that girls in this region are forced to leave their families to work in Chinese factories, she was inspired to create the character of Mehrigul, who is caught between helping her family and her own dreams of an education.
One day in the market, a foreign lady from America named Mrs. Chazen buys one of Mehrigul’s baskets made from old grapevines and is interested in purchasing more. Mehrigul is excited—this could mean money for corn meal or even for school fees for herself and her little sister.
But lately, since her brother left, things have been difficult in her family. Her mother is distant and depressed. Her father is likely to throw any extra money on gambling or drinking wine. Not only that, Ata thinks little of his daughter’s skills. “It’s men who are craftsmen, not women,” he tells her scornfully. In her father’s eyes, Mehrigul knows she is worth more to the family as a factory worker.
Mehrigul is up against tremendous odds until the day her grandfather, Chong Ata, takes a stand. His belief and support help Mehrigul to begin to believe in her own worth and speak up for her own future. The Vine Basket is sure to evoke young American readers’ curiosity about this culture and would be a wonderful book to begin to explore questions about the lives of women and girls in other parts of the world.