A young woman in Shanghai experiences romance and anguish during the Cultural Revolution in this historical novel.
At the start of 1976, Du Chun Ming is already a woman wholeheartedly in love. The 22-year-old first met Fang Si Jun four years ago on the first day of her factory job. Chun Ming lives with her parents, including her engineer father, Jing Zi, who works so much that he aggravates his high blood pressure and heart disease. His job often entails updating Chinese technology, putting him at odds with the ongoing Cultural Revolution that deems modernization as a sign of capitalism. Si Jun’s stance on China’s current sociopolitical state is essentially to keep one’s head down and stay mum. He expresses concern over apparent anti–Cultural Revolution comments Chun Ming’s beloved cousin, Jian Hua, and his girlfriend, Lin Nan, have made. Such statements are especially dangerous when the government is searching for individuals spreading “political rumors.” Jing Zi disapproves of Si Jun’s attitude, as the young man is seemingly only invested in self-preservation. But when the government designates people close to Chun Ming as counterrevolutionaries, lives could be ruined or even lost, and anyone linked by mere association is, in the public’s eyes, equally guilty. Chen’s (Back Bay Investigation, 2019, etc.) love story in a country of social and political unrest is, perhaps unsurprisingly, often dour. Chun Ming, for example, is incessantly distressed about Jian Hua and Lin Nan’s safety; her father’s worsening illness; and whether Jing Zi will support her relationship with Si Jun. Likewise, the Cultural Revolution is an imposing presence, as characters are under constant threat of accusations or someone misinterpreting a humble utterance or act. The author retains a simplicity that benefits the story, which centers on the political upheaval adversely affecting the protagonist and the relatively few people surrounding her. Concise prose further aids the narrative’s consistent momentum, as the Cultural Revolution, even near its end, continues to devastate citizens’ lives.
An engrossing, taut story that skillfully incorporates a real-life Chinese sociopolitical movement.