“ Genre: Fiction / Author: Anthony Grey / Hardcover / 645 Pages / Book is published 1988-06 by Little Brown & Co (T) „
Having become throughly engrossed with the true life account of life during the Chinese cultural revolution, Wild Swans, as written by Jung Chang, I was recently ispired to pick up this fictional account of the same period that concentrates in the main part on the infamous Long March and the affect it had on the events that followed in it's wake.
Jakob Kellner from a young age is bedazzled by tales of christian missionaries in China and, when he grows up, becomes determined to follow in their footsteps. This leads him deep into the far reaches of rural China where no foreigner has ever walked before, leads him to meet his wife and the mother of his future daughter and, ultimately, leads to him and his family being captured by Communist forces and taken along on the Long March as a prisoner of war. What follows in the months and years to come, is a deeply moving and emotional portrayal of a series of dramatic historical events that would change the face of not just a nation but the very nature of the people themselves.
This is a phenomenal novel, based on many different personal accounts, though none of the story's main characters are real, which manages to incorporate real-life historical figures such as Mao Tse Tung himself in what becomes a truly believable tale. What makes this different from Wild Swans, apart from the fact that this story is largely fictional though based on real historical fact, is that this is an account of events as largely seen through the eyes of a westerner rather than from the viewpoint of a Chinese national who actually lived through these traumatic and dangerous times. Still, this book manages to ensnare the reader and draws them in- entirely enveloping them in a story that is as emotional and thought-provoking as it is traumatic. Although the book climaxes with a simple message of hope, the journey before you reach there is a roller-coaster ride of emotions that is all the more poignant for the fact that this so easily could have actually happened.
The closest novel this could be compared to is probably Charlotte Grey; whilst that book dealt with the way French Jews were treated during the Second World War, this novel instead deals with the way Chinese people were victimised for apparently not going along with what was often a highly contradictionary, confusing and ever changing Communist policy. Children are persuaded to turn against their parents, students against their teachers and even wives against their husbands as paranoid accusations are made against anyone who is thought to be a "capitalist-roader", a "rightist" or a traitor to Chairman Mao himself. Focused entirely around a single set of characters and how the turbulent political changes consistently affects the shape of their lives and their futures over the course of forty years, the novel is one that never fails to keep the reader hooked and has a very real and powerful effect that continues long after the last page has been turned.
This is without question the best historical novel I have read since Tatiana De Rosnay's Sarah's Key earlier in the year. (see my other review). Anthony Grey is also the author of Saigon which takes a similar look at Vietnam, and judging from how much I enjoyed this novel, there is little doubt that I will be picking that up as well before much longer. If you have not come across this novel before and the Chinese Cultural Revolution is an era you have an interest in then this is a novel I really reccomend you pick up!!!