When teacher Meihua Wei is torn away from her newborn daughter and sent to a labor camp for seven years, she fears that she will never see her family again. Her crime? In the eyes of Communist China she is condemned as an ‘anti-revolutionary’ simply because her mother is an American. As Meihua labors away in the squalid conditions of the camp, we follow the life of her daughter Yezi as she grows.
Yezi and her brother Sang are left in the care of Yao, a sixty-year old woman who worked for Meihua and Lon (Yezi’s father). Lon works in a mine and is only allowed to visit his family once a month. When Meihua is sent to the camp, the remainder of the family (Yao and the children) are forced out of their apartment and made to live in one room with a curtain for a door. The children share a bed; Yao sleeps in a chair. Food is costly and with very little money coming in Yao is forced to scrape out a living by scrounging the trash piles at the market for edible food.
Throughout Yezi’s early years we learn about the harsh restrictions on the middle-class of Mao’s China. Yezi begins to question her American heritage and learns to embrace it. When finally she meets her American grandmother and goes to live in Boston, she learns what true love really is.
I found this book to be an eye-opener. Having grown up during the same years as Yezi, and having been told there were starving children in China, I really didn’t know much else. The plight of the Chinese was not taught in my parochial school; my parents shielded me from the bad news of the day. So for me this book was a learning experience that I wholly embraced.
Well written, steady pace, and an endearing yet unexpected conclusion give this debut novel five stars.