How he managed eventually to wander back into Beijing and resume a more or less ordinary life is a matter, presumably, for...



An extraordinary—and offbeat—insider’s account of life in post-Mao, pre-Tiananmen China.

Born in 1953, Ma Jian had a wife, a child, and a good job working as an artist and propagandist for a government trade-union organization. But he wasn’t satisfied living in a China that “feels like an old tin of beans that having lain in the dark for forty years, [and] is beginning to burst at the seams.” Unwisely, he let his disaffection be known by growing his hair long, hanging out with dissident artists, and having a fling or two. His actions caught up with him: his wife divorced him, while his section heads brought him in for endless, surreal self-criticism sessions—one deputy accusing him of using a splotch of yellow paint to “suggest that we are a federation of pornographic trade unions.” Ma took an unlikely course by simply walking away, traveling hobo-style through the western desert, down to the China Sea coast, and eventually to Tibet, where he kept out of trouble with the oppressed, Chinese-detesting locals by passing himself off as a citizen of Hong Kong. Spinning a single narrative, he collects notes on all he saw and did. Always a step ahead of the law, always with a fresh eye, blending in with the crowd, he was able to see things forbidden to Western travelers, from out-of-the-way oases to sometimes unpleasant scenes of daily life (“I went in and ordered a bowl of mutton noodles. They were quite filling, but I kept thinking of the sheep’s head I saw bubbling in the pot”). Out among the cutthroats, brigands, shamans, and rural unemployed, Ma kept clear of the Campaign Against Spiritual Pollution for three years, living a grand life of adventure.

How he managed eventually to wander back into Beijing and resume a more or less ordinary life is a matter, presumably, for another book—one that readers will eagerly await.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-42059-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2001

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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