Synopses & Reviews
Hailed as “luminous” by The New York Times Book Review
, Nicole Mones' bestselling debut novel, Lost in Translation
, dazzled critics with a sensuous tale of adventure and awakening set in modern China.
A Cup of Light returns to that rich, exotic landscape in an enthralling saga of precious works of art–and the human lives illuminated by them. Written with exquisite grace, A Cup of Light is an intoxicating blend of romance and intrigue, complete with a heroine whose voice is irresistible to the last page.
As an appraiser of fine Chinese porcelain, Lia Frank holds fragile beauty in her hands, examines priceless treasure with a magnifying lens. But when Lia looks in the mirror, she sees the flaws in herself, a woman wary of love, cut off from the world around her. Still, when she is sent to Beijing to authenticate a collection of rare pieces, Lia will find herself changing in surprising ways. . .coming alive in the shadow of an astounding mystery. . .drawn into an unfolding saga of artists and thieves, intrigue and longing.
Lia was told the collection was impressive–twenty spectacular pots. Instead, in a vast room in a gated home in Beijing, Lia finds herself surrounded by the impossible: forty crates and eight hundred works of astounding beauty, with pieces reaching back centuries and perhaps even into the royal residence of the Forbidden City. Now Lia must evaluate each fragile pot, pairing each brushstroke and each nearly invisible imperfection with the database in her mind. Her job is to answer questions that will reverberate through dozens of lives: Where did these works of art come from? Are they truly authentic? Or are they impossibly beautiful forgeries–part of the perilous underworld of Chinese art?
As Lia examines her treasure, a breathtaking mystery unravels around her. A smuggler will risk his life for a chance to spirit these imperial antiquities out of China. A dealer in Hong Kong awaits, while a buyer in America is driven by a longing no possession will ever fulfill. And with political intrigue intruding on her world of provenance and beauty, Lia is drawn into another, more personal drama–a love affair that could alter the course of her life...
From the Hardcover edition.
"Mones's second novel...twins a conventional romance with an unconventional and intriguing art world mystery....[Mones] generates real suspense moving cinematically from character to character and place to place all the while deftly sketching the intricacies of Chinese porcelain and the world of imitators and smugglers that surround it." Publishers Weekly
"Intrepid yet insecure, passionate yet proud, Lia triumphs in the seductively exotic world of international intrigue, one which Mones conveys with depth and subtlety." Carol Haggas, Booklist
"[A] beguiling if overbusy tale....Intelligent and consistently interesting, with an engagingly original cast, subject, and themes but the story itself often lags." Kirkus Reviews
"A page-turner that leads us into a closed, sometimes clandestine world....Mones' talent for intrigue runneth over." The Dallas Morning News
"A delightful novel." The Los Angeles Times
"Magnetic storytelling...with writing that is both spare and lyrical." The Seattle Times
"Mysterious, suspenseful, and...written with exquisite grace." The Portland Tribune (Oregon)
"Unfortunately, Mones reveals more about porcelain pots than human nature; any tension revolves around the dangers of the black market venture....Hints at possibly rich themes are scattered throughout this tedious novel, but they are never developed." Library Journal
For expert American appraiser Lia Frank, the assignment is a dream come true: Fly to Beijing and appraise a stunning cache of rare imperial porcelain. Adored by emperors, these masterpieces are living embodiments of the past, with an irresistible pull on collectors, tycoons, master forgers, and, above all, the smugglers who risk capture and instant execution in the hopes of unimaginable wealth. All of them yearn for what the art can bring--wealth, power, a place in the world. Lia's whole life has been shaped by her passion for this art. Knowledge of her own life, however, is more elusive. As she treads dangerously in a culture that looks at foreigners with wary eyes, she moves slowly toward a very different kind of desire--and toward a life of her own.
1. Lia chooses to wear hearing aids instead of getting more discreet implants. What does this say about her personality and her interaction with the outside world? Is there something she is seeking to escape?
2. How did growing up with hearing aids shape Lia into the person she has become? Has it had an effect on her success as an appraiser?
3. Unlike most ah chans, Bai does not smuggle porcelain purely for the money or the element of risk. What does Bai hope to achieve in his craft? What sort of fulfillment could it offer?
4. Why is Lia so interested in finding the Master of the Ruffled Feather? Is she disappointed or delighted with what she finds?
5. Would you say that Gao Yideng is more of a tycoon or a connoisseur? And what about Jack? Why do you think this?
6. When Lias partner is unable to accompany her in Beijing, she is afraid that she will be unable to do the job on her own. Why is this fear so prominent? Is she able to overcome it?
7. In China, it is common for experts to also make pots themselves. However, Lia only likes to look at and touch them. Why do you think that is?
8. What did the plane crash make Lia realize about her knowledge of Chinas history and her place as an American citizen on foreign soil? Do you think that it has a lasting impact on her?
9. Lia is only able to catch a fleeting glimpse of something beautiful about herself before she goes back to focusing on her imperfections, inside and out. Do you think that her relationship with Michael changed that? What are some of the symbols of that change?
10. Why is Lia so interested in obtaining the Chenghua chicken cup even though she knows it is a fake? What does it represent to her?
11. Do you think that Bai learns a lasting lesson from the fate of Hu and Sun? Does it affect his outlook on his family and his own future? What do you think happens to him after the book?
12. Lia has mastered the art of memory, while Michael seeks to master the science of forgetting. What does this say about them as individuals and as a couple? Do you see them reversing roles by the end of the book?
About the Author
Nicole Mones was awarded the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for her first novel, Lost in Translation, which was also named a New York Times Notable Book. She lives with her family in Portland, Oregon.
Reading Group Guide
The questions, topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Nicole Mones A Cup of Light. We hope they will enrich your experience of this richly imaginative novel.