More engaging than profound, Yu Hua’s essays say much about the continuing enigma that is China.



Acclaimed Chinese novelist Yu Hua (Brothers, 2010, etc.) offers a series of essays that combine memoir and trenchant social critique.

Born in 1960, Yu Hua is of a generation that has been witness to China’s astounding and perplexing economic and social transformations. While each essay is loosely themed around a common Chinese word—e.g., “People,” “Leader,” “Reading,” “Writing”—the book reflects on the author’s experiences during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and ’70s and expresses his feelings on how China has and has not changed since then. As a boy during that time, Yu Hua was mostly bored, as there was little to do and little outside of Mao Zedong to read. Still, his stories of the cruelties and inanities of the time make clear his conclusion that the Cultural Revolution made for “a life made up of equal parts stifled instincts, dreary freedom, and hollow verbiage.” For no particular reason he could discern, the Chinese government decided in 1978 that Yu Hua should be a dentist. And so he was, until his literary career took off in the ’80s, just as the market economy in China took flight. His curmudgeonly conclusion is that China has entered into “an era of impulsive self-indulgence” and “moral bankruptcy and confusion of right and wrong.” For Yu Hua, revolution in China never disappeared “but simply donned a different costume.” The mad dash toward change remains. The author is hardly pedantic here, however, as he makes his points in sharply observed tales about everyday life. The translation preserves both his simple, direct style and subtle sense of humor.

More engaging than profound, Yu Hua’s essays say much about the continuing enigma that is China.

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-37935-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2011

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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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