In his first book, Marketplace correspondent Tong offers a unique look into the lives of his Chinese relatives since the communist takeover in 1949.
Though the narrative is sometimes confusing as the author runs through the lists of maternal and paternal grandparents and great-grandparents (though the character list at the beginning is helpful), it is particularly interesting in that, as his relatives say, it was the same for everyone; they all suffered. Tong’s decision to write about his family’s past was driven by the fact that so many in his family wanted to bury it. As the China bureau chief for Marketplace, he was well-placed to seek out the histories of his ancestors. The most intriguing story is that of his maternal grandmother, Mildred Zhao, who moved to Shanghai after the great flood of 1931 and ended up founding the Light of the Sea Primary School with her husband, Carleton Sun. After the communists took over the mainland in 1949, she left Shanghai for Hong Kong, and Carleton sent the children on a year later, staying behind to run the school. He was arrested in 1951 and convicted as a counterrevolutionary, and he received a 15-year sentence. Many of these stories are heartbreaking narratives of separation, of wives escaping with their children and husbands taking one but leaving other children behind. The book also represents Tong’s search for a history to pass on to his children. “Sometimes you have to flip back in the album to try to understand the pictures you’re seeing now,” he writes. “And flip slowly.” The author ends with an exposé of the baby-selling market and the dodgy methods often used to procure children for Americans desperate to adopt.
A solid exploration of China past and present in which the author climbs “a punishing mountain of history with [his] intergenerational team.”