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As she relates in her fictionalized childhood memoir, Homesick, Fritz grew up in China yearning for the America she had never seen; here, 55 years after her departure at age 13, she returns--and finds, in a Hankou transformed, a few shards of her past: "China was not only part of me. . . I was part of China." What she turned up, most vividly in a playground whose benches were made of tombstones from the old foreign cemetery (where Fritz's sister had been buried), were "relics of the colonial period which," she correctly notes, "the Chinese would prefer to forget." But she was struck, too, by the discovery that the street on which she'd lived had figured in the 1911 revolution ("l had lived on a historic street and no one had ever told me"); by seeing, next to Zhou Enlai in a photograph, "the round smiling face" of a clergyman-friend of her father's. To her pleasure, the church where she had never been comfortable was now an acrobatics school ("there was only joy in the room") and the stuffy British School she'd attended was now a rest home for geologists! ("Were geologists people who became especially tired? I wondered.") Fritz has a lively historical imagination, as anyone familiar with her American-history re-creations for children well knows; she has the quality of remaining forever a child that she prizes (making telephone-contact with China-chum Andrea after publication of Homesick, she's disconcerted by this "new voice," relieved to hear "her old voice" at age 69); and she's engagingly unaffected--telling how she learned Chinese jokes in preparation for her trip, then how the jokes went off. Swatches of ancient and modern Chinese history are stitched into the narrative; and along with proclaiming both children and the elderly "the happiest people in China," Fritz makes some discreet observations about the constraints on those in between. The likeliest audience, though, consists of youngsters or adults taken with Homesick--who will share Fritz's satisfaction in her warm welcome, in no longer feeling the "outsider" and being able to call Hankou her hometown. (Below the relatively bland anecdotal/informational surface are some subtle sociocultural dynamics.)
Pub Date: April 5th, 1985
ISBN: 0399211829
Page count: 168pp
Publisher: Putnam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1985