RED SORROW by Nanchu


A Memoir
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A redolent memoir of growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), and of its pervasive social and personal aftereffects.

Mao Zedong’s brutal dictatorship unleashed social disorder on a mass scale and wrote one of the most disturbing chapters in the voluminous history of 20th-century tyranny. Nanchu (a nom de guerre), an academic expatriate living in the US, describes herself as witness, victim, participant, and survivor of that tragic time. She declares that her intention in writing is to lessen memory’s burden and commemorate the youths who died for their beliefs. The basics of Nanchu’s (and many others’) saga are widely known: Party intellectuals were tortured and detained during the virulent Red Guard uprising (a state-engineered anarchy); their children were hounded by truant gangs; these children, in turn, were caught up in the disorder and themselves gravitated to the Red Guards. Eventually the uprising gave way to the forced agrarian communal labor movement and new opportunities opened for the worker-peasant-soldier students. But if the basics are familiar, Nanchu provides a fresh perspective to the harrowing chronicles of these children of the Revolution. Her tone and her imagery are saturated in poetic Chinese idioms (“My dear friends! You fell like tender melons off the green vine!”) that rely heavily on personification and apostrophe—the same rhetoric, ironically, that the Maoists used to propagandize. Even a sympathetic reader may find a few metaphors strained (e.g., “the glory of spring competed ferociously with the brilliant sunlight”), and some may find more direct insight into the Cultural Revolution in the pages of transcribed oral histories—but it would be hard, all the same, to read Nanchu’s account without being moved.

An unusual and worthwhile account. (8 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: July 1st, 2001
ISBN: 1-55970-569-8
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Arcade
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2001


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