The grandchild of a former landlord--China's most spat-upon class after the Revolution--Chen was regularly beaten to a pulp by other children and, despite performing at the top of his class, repeatedly denied the right to continue at school. His family of nine--including his brother, three sisters, grandparents and parents--subsisted on moldy yams alone for entire winters. Meanwhile, his grandfather was attacked randomly by neighbors and forced by the local authorities to guard lumber and tend fields. Chen's father, with his prerevolutionary college education, eventually managed to extract himself from the labor camps by becoming skilled in acupuncture (he used the biggest needles on the hated "cadres"). At the climax of this survival story, Chen, the book's first-person narrator, and his older brother, Jin, both compete in China's first nationwide, open educational tests in 1977: "We were out to make a point. The Chen family had been dragged through the mud for the last forty years.... Now it was time." Scoring among the top 2% of the country, the 14-year-old Chen achieved his dream of attending Beijing Language Institute. According to the epilogue, after graduating with high honors, he wound up in New York at age 23, where he won a scholarship to attend Columbia Law School, and later landed a job on Wall Street and married a doctor. Despite the devastating circumstances of his childhood and adolescence, Chen recounts his coming of age with arresting simplicity. Readers will cry along with this sad, funny boy who proves tough enough to make it, every step of the painful way. Agent, Elaine Koster. 5-city author tour. (Feb.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Naturally not everything he went through was a hardship. Chen describes warm friendships with a rough bunch of boys he fell in with when the other children in the village rejected and tormented him. He describes the sanctuary of love and warmth he found at home with his parents and siblings. He describes a beautiful, "sparsely populated, very pastoral" region where "you could go and write great poems—if you weren't forced to plow the fields." He also vividly describes the extraordinary change that came over the country when Mao died in 1976.