I enjoy memoirs from China and India specifically. Dunno why, but I always have. This book is about growing up during Mao’s bloody Red Cultural Revolution. And it captures the lunacy of political stupidity over evil so well.
For the first time, I found myself reading the very prosaic descriptions of horrible events as daily life, and contemplating what it would look like in America. For instance, the turning of students against professors during the denunciation periods, when things like falling in love, wearing glasses, and reading Shakespeare made you a bad person. And once the students had gone crazy with frenetic energy and youthful zeal, and realized they were next for being bad people, did they learn anything from the experience? It is easy to whip up zeal. It is hard to reason. It is harder to reason when reason itself is suspect.
I also loved the descriptions of people assigned authority by the regime as true believers, going through houses to confiscate contraband and actually taking everything of value. True believers are few and far between, but stupidity masks many abilities to take advantage of situations.
Wu and Englemann use simple prose to tell a complicated story, and there are sometimes gaps in how someone got somewhere, but the stories are compelling. The death of the author’s best friend’s mother will stick with me. Wu is a compelling character in her own narrative. And I love a character-driven narrative.
There is also the moment when as a child the author realizes she has to print a cartoon denouncing her own father. The anti-intellectualism of the times is fascinating to compare to how liberal and conservative are being thrown around in America these days.
For the first time, I feel like I read a memoir of the Cultural Revolution as a prep manual. Bummer. But it is a great read.