Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Hundred Flowers, by Gail Tsukiyama (fiction) - Mao's China, family's fracture

book cover of A Hundred Flowers by Gail Tsukiyama published by St Martins Press
You can see the White Cloud Mountain, if you look hard.
You must climb the spiny kapok tree to get high enough.
Is any tree tall enough to see where Tao's father is?

Chairman Mao asked that "one hundred schools of thought" contend so that "one hundred flowers" would bloom during the Cultural Revolution. But could intellectuals believe that the dictator truly wanted opposing opinions to be voiced in Communist China?

Listen to the beginning of the story here, courtesy of Macmillan Audio, publishers of the audiobook version of A Hundred Flowers,  narrated by Audie Award winner, Simon Vance.

Get to know Tao's family and this intriguing, difficult time in China's history today at your local library or independent bookstore.

Should Tao's mother have told him the truth about his father's political imprisonment, or was she right in allowing her young son to believe that papa would soon return to them?
**kmm

Book info: A Hundred Flowers / Gail Tsukiyama. St. Martin's Press, 2012. [author's website] [publisher site] [author video interview]

My Recommendation:
Perhaps Tao can see where his father has gone if he climbs the tallest tree in their Guangzhou courtyard. Instead his fall breaks his leg, but doesn’t break the Communist Party’s iron grip on his homeland, doesn’t bring Father home, doesn’t stop schoolmates from taunting that Father is a traitor.

If Chairman Mao’s call “let a hundred schools of thought contend” to be believed, then intellectuals like his papa Sheng and grandfather Wei would be safe to express their opinions, even if contrary to Communist doctrines. But a letter from their courtyard house to the Chairman results in papa’s departure, and mama won’t tell seven-year-old Tao where he has gone.

As Tao’s badly broken leg heals, he is often visited by Auntie Song who lives downstairs, by his grandfather who tells stories of olden times, and always by his mother, whose herbal remedies are renowned throughout the city. Into the courtyard house, Mother invites a lost teenage girl, a pregnant runaway grateful for small kindness and an empty corner.

Visits to the police to explain that Sheng must come home after his son’s terrible accident were useless; letters arrive from the re-education center rarely. Why did the Party think that making a teacher work in a dangerous stone quarry would change anything?

Finally grandfather Wei decides that he must take the grueling train journey north alone to see for himself that Sheng is still alive and try to convince the officials to let him come home.

A fascinating cross-generational tale, told through the voices of the residents of Tao’s courtyard house during the Cultural Revolution which crushed China’s artistic and intellectual communities, rippling like an undercurrent in its society even today. [Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.]

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