A Chinese Journey
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 Splendid, multifaceted recounting of the Shanghai-born author's search for her roots. Pan (Sons of the Yellow Emperor, 1990) combines history, social anthropology, and biography into a savory stir-fry that leaves us hungering for more. The death of Pan's father provided impetus for the author's search. So Chinese was their relationship that Pan could never ask him the myriad questions she had concerning their family--even though the two, isolated in a remote Canadian cabin, shared much of what was to be her father's last winter. Returning to Shanghai after his death, Pan rediscovered the long-lost family retainer, Hanze--who retained his nearly photographic memory despite having suffered 24 years in China's labor camps. As she made several trips to visit cemeteries, former family homes, buildings, and long-lost relatives, the years fell away for Pan, revealing family secrets, correcting misconceptions. Her grandfather was not a stevedore but a common coolie who became a labor contractor, then a very successful building contractor. Pan's parents, socialites of 30's and 40's Shanghai, resided in mansions, rode about in a long, gleaming Packard--he in a serge suit, she in furs--and danced to Harry James and Benny Goodman. Philandering came with the culture: wealth begot mistresses. Having married for love, Pan's unhappy grandmother committed suicide and was replaced by a mistress, ``Madame,'' who ruled with an iron fist and usurped her stepson's inheritance. Then the Communists confiscated all, branding Grandfather a traitor and leaving Madame to die an impoverished alcoholic. Later on, history repeated itself and Pan's brother lost much of his birthright to his own father's mistress. Pan explores all of this thoroughly, even trekking beyond the Gobi Desert to see where Hanze was enslaved. The finest sort of historical and social writing: living, unpretentious, and moving, but with no recrimination or garment- rending.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 1-56836-009-6
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Kodansha
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1993


NonfictionHEY, AMERICA, YOUR ROOTS ARE SHOWING by Megan Smolenyak
by Megan Smolenyak