A memoir of growing up amid poverty in contemporary urban China--at once lyrical and brutal. It is 1980 and Hong Ying has turned 18. China is only now hesitantly beginning to move from under the powerful and dreadful shadow of the now dead Man Zedong. Hong Ying is only now hesitantly beginning to reach adulthood, exploring her own mind, her sexuality, her past. Born in the famine year of 1962, Hong Ying's determined to uncover the secrets that lie beneath the surface of her family, to understand why she feels like an outsider in their midst. At the same time she becomes involved with a history teacher at her high school who has his own shadowy and violent past that will soon lead him to a tragic end. He emboldens her to think for herself and also briefly becomes her lover. Throughout it all, the lives of Hong Ying and those around her are hopelessly enmeshed in the capricious and catastrophic policies of the Chinese Communist Party. The famine years of the early '60s, brought on by inept government policies, led her mother, Hong Ying learns, to make choices she would not otherwise have made. The factious struggles of the Cultural Revolution led the history teacher to commit acts of brutality very much against his nature. This is, then, the story of one person's awakening, but also of a society's. In its stark and detailed portrayal of unremitting poverty--the pervasive sense of hopelessness and casual violence--and of the stress and intimacies of family life, the work is reminiscent of Angela's Ashes. Yet it is also very much a part of the great realist writing tradition of China's ""May 4th"" movement of the 1930s (Lu Xun, Lao She, etc.) in which the greater tragedies of society are revealed in the ruined lives of a few characters. A major writer emerges here, combining flawlessly the often broken dreams of youth and the usually broken dream of politics.