From the author of last year's Red Azalea—a highly praised memoir of growing up during the Cultural Revolution—comes a bittersweet story as much about love as about the malignant legacy of Maoist China. Twenty-nine-year-old Zebra Wong begins her story in 1982, ``a year depression swam through the veins of the nation.'' The Cultural Revolution is over, Mao is dead, and China is slowly changing, but individual lives are still subject to bureaucratic whim and control. Zebra and her classmates, temporarily excused from regular factory work, are attending a special work-study English program in Shanghai, Zebra's hometown. Like Zebra, her fellow students had worshipped Mao, spent their adolescence learning his teachings, and then worked in remote agricultural regions during the 1970's. Now ``former'' revolutionaries, they bitterly realize that ``our youth had faded without a trace...[as] we learned to distrust...acted like heartless robots, our souls wrapped in darkness.'' But Katherine, a young American in Shanghai to teach English while she completes her dissertation, soon changes their attitudes and their lives with her gaiety and openness- -changes that will eventually harm both herself and her students because, as she's warned, ``no one tells the truth here. You have to figure out where to find the truth.'' Zebra, who'd been raped by the local party chief while performing forced labor in the countryside, is instantly fascinated by Katherine's beauty and stories of American life. And though Zebra has a loveless affair with a fellow student, who will cynically marry an official's daughter to get a scholarship to go abroad, she finds herself increasingly in love with Katherine. Eventually, though, Katherine's incautious spontaneity, her political naãvetÇ, and others' jealous betrayals lead to her deportation—as well as to a harsh penalty for Zebra ended only by changing politics and some loyal friends end. Lyrical prose with a distinct Chinese flavor makes Min's first novel—and its times—even more poignant and resonant.
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