In general, I don't post about the books I read because I tend to like my books like my TV: entertaining and fluffy. But the book I just plowed through in 3 days most certainly deserves a recommendation.
Jan Wong has returned to Beijing. Her quest: to find someone she encountered briefly in 1973, and whose life she was certain she had ruined forever.
In the early 70s, Jan Wong traveled from Canada to become one of only two Westerners permitted to study at Beijing University. One day a young stranger, Yin Luoyi, asked for help in getting to the United States. Wong, then a starry-eyed Maoist, immediately reported Yin to the authorities. Thirty-three years on, and more than a decade after the publication of her bestselling Red China Blues, Jan Wong revisits the Chinese capital to begin her search for the person who has haunted her conscience. She wants to apologize, to somehow make amends. At the very least, she wants to discover whether Yin survived.
As Jan Wong hunts through the city, she finds herself traveling back through the decades, back to her experiences in the Cultural Revolution, to places that were once of huge importance to her. She has changed, of course, but not as much as Beijing. One of the world’s most ancient cities is now one of its most modern. The neon signs no longer say “Long Live Chairman Mao” but instead tout Mary Kay cosmetics and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Places she once knew have vanished, bulldozed into oblivion and replaced by avant-garde architecture, trendy bars, and sleek condos. The people she once knew have changed, too, for better or for worse. Memories are everywhere. By searching out old friends and acquaintances, Jan Wong uncovers tantalizing clues about the woman she wronged. She realizes her deepest fears and regrets were justified. But Yin herself remains elusive–until the day she phones Jan Wong.
Now let me tell you why I think this is a MUST read..... the story itself is fascinating. At first, I couldn't reconcile the fact that Jan Wong, a respected journalist here in Canada, had at one time been a Maoist... It was very interesting to learn how people got swept up in the initial promises of Mao and willingly participated. But the part that sucked me in and kept me up late at night, reading "just one more chapter" was her comparative descriptions of China in the different times she lived there.
On a very tiny scale, I know what she is talking about. I went twice, in 2004 and 2007, staying on the same block. And in that time, Beijing had changed so much that even I had a hard time finding my way around on the one street.
I was also particularly interested in the constant real estate discussions with the people she met: her old Maoist friends are all now buzy buying and selling properties, moving 5 times in 7 years, changing their cell phone numbers so often that it makes it impossible to stay in touch with acquaintances....
Many of my readers have adopted or are in the process of adopting from China. Do yourself a favor, read this book. It's got nothing to do with adoption, but in my opinion, it will go a long way in helping understand modern-China and maybe explaining it to your/my children.