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A memoir steeped in metaphor and ultimately tremendously moving.

A memoir of the difficult lives of the author’s family members, who eked out a bare subsistence during the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

Out of a sense of guilt toward his relatives, who toiled raising young families during the revolution and endured no end of hardship in their poor village, Yan (The Day the Sun Died, 2018, etc.), a winner of the Franz Kafka Prize, addresses the rarely acknowledged sacrifices they made as well as how their lives inspired him and his generation to leave their rural homes and try to find greater opportunity in the city. Yan was the youngest in a big family growing up in Henan Province, breaking up “ginger stones” alongside his beloved father to fashion the tile-roofed house that would serve as his brothers’ bridal “mansions.” The author barely got a middle school education. With a sick sister whose care required all of the family’s earnings, there was nothing but toil and poverty, and Yan watched his father grow increasingly frail from chronic asthma. All the while, he dreamed of leaving and becoming a writer, and he followed his father’s brother to work in the city at a cement factory. His experiences in the city, Yan was sure, would make for a happy life, and he set about writing after his long shifts at the factory. Eventually, the author joined the army to get away from the poverty and monotony that his relatives endured. Throughout the book, Yan depicts his provincial relatives with enormous heart and respect, acknowledging their sacrifices in a dark yet poignant meditation on grief and death. “The elderly have no choice but to take a first step on behalf of the next generation,” he writes. “Then they go to the next world and lie down there, calmly waiting for their children to follow in their footsteps and be reunited with them.”

A memoir steeped in metaphor and ultimately tremendously moving.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-4808-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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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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Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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