RED FLOWER OF CHINA

A candid memoir of the author's participation in China's Cultural Revolution—as well as a cautionary tale about youthful patriotic excess. Daughter of two dedicated Communists, Zhai (now a teacher in Canada) was a high-school student when the Cultural Revolution began. But even before that cataclysm, she explains, all aspects of Chinese life had been politicized. Young urban schoolchildren had to help with the harvest; indoctrination was incessant; and status was determined by one's family's political standing: As the child of low-ranking ``common office staff,'' the author was ignored by her teachers until her father was promoted. Ambitious, and determined to be a ``progressive''—the approved ranking—she was an ideal candidate for membership in the Red Guard when, in 1966, Mao set in motion the events that led not to only years of turmoil but to the destruction of a whole generation of gifted young Chinese. Zhai chillingly describes how, as a 15-year-old, she exhorted her school's detachment of Red Guards to root out class enemies; conducted humiliating self-criticism sessions of faculty and neighbors; and participated in fatal beatings. Her zeal was soon tempered not only by growing personal disquiet but by her political disillusionment, as she saw the Red Guards purged and replaced by even more revolutionary groups. By now, all education had stopped, and the author was sent with classmates to work with the peasants. Back-breaking work and bad food affected her health, and she despaired of ever going to college, since students were expected to live in the fields permanently. In time, though, Zhai moved on to factory work and was nominated for higher education. She admits that she was lucky—and that many of her peers weren't so fortunate. A searing tale of a regime that, in the name of patriotism, cynically manipulated the ideals of its most vulnerable members and then effectively ruined them—and a brutally frank mea culpa as well.

Pub Date: May 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-939149-83-4

Page Count: 245

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1993

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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