With poetic prose and vivid watercolors, Yang has created a rich portrait of life in China during the 1930s and '40s. Yang chronicles her Baba's (or Daddy's) boyhood and adolescence in 20 tales, each preceded by a watercolor. Baba was the fourth son in the eighth generation of the wealthy House of Yang, and his landscape teems with physical and spiritual dangers. He's threatened by torrential rains, ravenous wolves, red-bearded bandits, famines, demons, Japanese bombs, Russian troops, Communists, Nationalists, even an arranged marriage. When Baba is six, his family is forced out of their Manchurian homeland after the Japanese invasion. They move to China proper, then return five years later when Baba's father loses his job with a mining company. They live under the protective patronage of the family Patriarch until a bloody tug-of-war between followers of Mao and Chiang Kai- shek rends the family and country apart. Ancient legends, political upheavals, and religious ceremonies define Baba's youth. Storytellers teach him about gods and demons, prodigal sons, and the ghosts of the improperly buried. Their wisdom then plays out in his own life as Baba witnesses the goddess of Mercy protect his mother from marauding invaders; the troubled ways of one of his older brothers; and a 49-day funeral ceremony ensuring his great- great-grandfather safe passage to Heaven. Yang's prose feels ancient and foreign; for instance, she describes the effects of the first Japanese bombs: ``The glass windowpanes inhaled and exhaled, but the paper panes heaved a sigh and suddenly gave way, cracking like white porcelain.'' The tension between ancient rituals and modern reality elevates these tales from the merely beautiful into an astonishing personal vision, and a unique portrait emerges of a culture straddling thousands of years. Yang's work is like a lovely painted scroll swimming with wild souls, beasts, birds, flowers, day and night sky, tragedy, and hope.
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