A restrained but moving account of the toll a totalitarian society exacts, by Chinese dissident and writer Zhang (Half of Man is Woman, 1988), who with his first novel became a symbol of political openness and of a less repressed attitude toward sex. As before, Zhang's fiction is, by Chinese standards, sexually explicit as well as in many ways autobiographical. The hero this time, a famous writer who's also "rightist" with the wrong class background (like the author), is sent to a labor camp to be reformed. While there, he is taken away to be executed but, along with others, survives. Now, however, "a bullet of fear and repression has been lodged in his brain"--as it has for "every intellectual in China." In a series of flashbacks, while on a visit to the US and France, he recalls his experiences in a China--where famine was endemic, the countryside ruined, and his mother chose to die rather than respond to a request by the cadres to implicate people connected to her long-dead husband. As the famous writer contrasts the abundance of the West and its sexual freedom with China's austerity, he realizes he must return to China, even though his book has provoked the government. He feels he is owed another bullet in the head, for paradoxically that fast bullet and the fear of a second have been a challenge--"the challenge which has given me a vitality that has lasted a lifetime to the point where I have the strength to die." A searing portrait of one man's quest to survive--and a powerful indictment of totalitarianism.