On a summer day in 2010, when Ying Qian returns to Beijing from America to visit her family, she receives information on how her father, a Chinese nuclear weapons expert, was killed during the Cultural Revolution 40 years before. The event forces her to walk down memory lane to the darkest period of recent Chinese history and compels her to search for information surrounding her father’s death. Through the process, she discovers truths that have been there all along.
Idea/Concept: Author Ying Qian’s memoir of her upbringing during the Cultural Revolution in China, pivots from a discovery she makes upon her return to Beijing in 2010. Qian excels at viscerally recreating Mao’s China as filtered through her childhood perceptions, while supplying readers with edifying historical context.
Prose: Qian writes with restrained, quietly perceptive prose that is as effective when describing Qian’s childhood emotions as it is in detailing the machinations of Mao’s regime.
Originality: Qian’s memoir offers a highly effective framing device, which also allows the work to stand apart from other titles that unfold during the years of the Cultural Revolution. Qian’s story—of her family, her father, and her own journey from Beijing to the United States and back—is a unique and memorable one.
Execution: Rather than writing purely about a painful and tumultuous upbringing in Mao’s China, Qian reveals her own vulnerability as an adult reluctantly peering into the past and discovering truths that had perhaps been there all along.
Date Submitted: January 29, 2020