THE ATTIC by Guanlong Cao

THE ATTIC

A Memoir of a Chinese Landlord's Son
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A deeply disturbing memoir of childhood in postrevolution Shanghai. Guanlong Cao grew up in a tiny attic with his parents, two brothers, and sister. They had to live this way because his father, a former landlord, was now, after the Land Revolution, a ``class enemy,'' reduced by law to a perpetual state of desperate poverty and under permanent probation with the local authorities. Cao recounts his growing consciousness of sexuality compellingly, remembering such things as the smell of a much older neighborhood girl and his fascination with his family's picture of the deity Lady Bodhisattva--whose feet, free and unbound, eventually inspire a splendidly rendered wet dream. But most of the memoir is darker than that. Cao's father brutally beats his three sons when they are young. As he ages, he goes crazy, even getting his head stuck between the ceiling and the floor in the corner of the attic; Cao's portrayal of this period is by turns pained and vindictive, detached and empathic. Cao remembers his mother for her nurturing, but her childhood haunts him: When she was seven, her aged grandmother lingered near death for some time. Her uncle eventually sent the little girl in to suffocate the old woman with a pillow; when she couldn't, he cursed her and did it himself. One of Cao's brothers is arrested by the Communists for reasons that never become clear to the family. They are not allowed to visit him, but Cao's mother goes every Sunday to stand outside the prison and call his name, sometimes shouting out some family news. When he is released, they learn that he never heard her; he had been transferred to a different prison two days after his arrest. Cao's descriptions are generous, often haunting, but his language is spare. This is a powerful portrait of political and social repression and intimate pain by a writer willing to boldly engage his own memories.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-520-20405-0
Page count: 276pp
Publisher: Univ. of California
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1996