A graphic memoir recounts a quiet life amid cultural upheaval.
Pingru, 95, makes his literary debut with a charming memoir illustrated with his own evocative watercolors, chronicling his life in China from 1923 to 2008, the year his beloved wife died. The son of a lawyer, the author grew up in a close-knit family that valued tradition. Throughout the year, his parents, siblings, and assorted relatives gathered to celebrate the seasons and various festivals, pay respects to ancestors and gods, and share special foods. When he was 18, he was accepted into a military academy, eager to join the fight against the Japanese. By the time World War II ended, he had risen to first lieutenant. The most significant event in his life was his marriage to Mao Meitang in 1948. Although the union was arranged by their families, the two had known each other as children and were delighted with the match. Now responsible for a wife, Pingru decided to return to civilian life, though he was unsure about his new path. He learned bookkeeping, tried—and failed—to set up a noodle shop, and settled in Shanghai, where he found two jobs, as a hospital accountant and editor. Everything changed for the worse in 1958, when, caught in the Cultural Revolution, the author was sent to do “Reeducation Through Labor” in a province far from Shanghai. Meitang and their five children were left to eke out a living without him. “The whole family was stigmatized,” he writes. The author does not dwell on the hardship of those 20 years but instead focuses on how he coped: by memorizing sentences in English to occupy his mind during “unskilled and primitive” labor; by learning to play the violin on Sunday, “a rest day”; and by trips home once a year at the Chinese New Year. “For ordinary people like us,” he writes, “life is made up of numbers of small details” that become “treasured memories.”
A graceful, gently told narrative of contentment and resilience.