Since 23 January is the Chinese New Year, I thought I read a Chinese Literature to commemorate the day.
The Long March Home tells the story of three generations of women. Agnes, a young Canadian goes to China as a missionary from the United Church of Canada and falls in love with a Chinese medical student. Growing anti-western sentiment forces her return to home to Nova Scotia, where she discovers she is pregnant. Meihua, their American-born daughter, travels to China in search of her father and winds up marrying a Chinese man, but the Cultural Revolution tears their lives apart. With both parents imprisoned, it falls to the family’s illiterate maid, Yao, to shield their daughter, Yezi, and her brother, from family tragedy, poverty and political discrimination, negotiating their survival during the revolution that she barely understands. Only after her mother is released, does Yezi, learn about her foreign grandmother, Agnes, who lives in Boston and has lost contact with the family since Yezi’s birth. Curious about her ancestry, Yezi joins her grandmother, Agnes, in the U.S. and learns about her life in China with the man her mother still longs to find.
Instantly similar stories I have read sprang into mind. Wild Swans by Jung Chang and Dreams of Joy by Lisa See.
Stories of Cultural Revolution abound, from YiYun Li’s The Vagrants by Yiyun Li to books I have mentioned above are just a few of the many books that spoke of the horror, trial and tribulations of the bourgeois families stripped off of their social status and subject to mindless political propagandas of the working class. I don’t think the aim of this book to tell the same stories and the same horror that have been executed brilliantly in Wild Swans but it is more suited to provide a dimension of life living under the oppression through the eyes of a young girl.
Reading the blurb at the back cover, I was a little confused. Naturally I thought the story would begin with Agnes, then Meihua, then Yezi but instead it starts straight from Meihua, with her husband working in a labour mine and they could only see each other once every few months. Meihua, an artist, is in a risk of incarceration because she is an American and do not fit into the “politically correct” mould of the peasant class.
Soon, Yezi was born and before she has a chance to spend her time with her mother, Meihua, as Meihua was whisked away to prison. The strength of the story begins from Yezi. She was mocked and shunned because of being the child of anti-revolutionary parents. She raised silk worms and cocoons, sneak into library (children was out of bound in that library for some reason) and learn English, build hide-outs and play with her best friends. She doesn’t understand why her mother has been away from her for 8 years and why her brother denounced her parents. It tells of a child finding her way to make sense of the world and find beauty of her life amidst the political madness in 70’s China.
After Mao’s death in 1976, Deng Xiaoping began to open China to Western contacts, and Yezi and her parents are reunited with her Canadian grandmother, Agnes and Yezi is opened up to a brand new world where women drives and people wear colourful clothes instead of grey and navy blue drabs.
I enjoyed Yezi’s story but there is one thing I wasn’t sure of: which genre and target audience the book was trying to appeal to? I suppose it is the same as asking what audience Room by Emma Donoghue and In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar were trying to attract because both books are told from the eyes of a young child. But looking at the grave subjects in these books Room and In Country of Men mentioned, I would say these books are meant to be adult’s consumption. In this book however, I felt the horror and terror of the Red Cultural Revolutionary movement was downplayed, which is not to say it is good or bad. I don’t meant it in a derogatory way, but this book is absolutely fabulous to read as a Young Adult introduction to the life under Cultural Revolution but not to my expectation of the likes of Wild Swans which is in my mind, still the best three generations stories of women who have lived and suffered through the Cultural Revolution.
Perhaps it is not fair of me to compare this with any other novels of Cultural Revolution. Read it as it is, the novel is a good idle afternoon read.
I would like to thank the author for providing the review copy. Happy Chinese New Year All.
Have you been in a situation where you think some books are better read as a different genre or should be reclassified? Like reading a Young Adult thinking that it should be at par of an Adult fiction?
Hardback. Publisher: Inanna Publication 2011 ; Length: 271 pages; Setting: 1970′s Kunming, China. Source: Review copy. Finished reading on: 25th January 2012.
About the writer:
Born in China, Zoë S. Roy was an eyewitness to the red terror under Mao’s regime. Her writing has appeared in Canadian Stories, Thought Magazine and The Northern Light. Her debut short fiction collection, Butterfly Tears, was published by Inanna Publications and Education Inc. The Long March Home is her first novel.
She holds an M.Ed in Adult Education and an MA in Atlantic Canada Studies from the University of Brunswick and Saint Mary’s University. She lives and works as an adult educator in Toronto, ON.