Now a writer living in New York, Da Chen describes his youth in mainland China with engaging humor and affecting warmth. It's often a harrowing tale: born in 1962, Chen was the grandson of a landlord, which rendered his entire family pariahs during the Cultural Revolution. And though initially an excellent student, he was ostracized in school and told he could never attend college. He responded by making friends with a group of young thugs who drank, smoked, and gambled but were kind to him. After Mao died in 1976, the budding juvenile delinquent discovered that higher education might be available to him after all. Chen worked hard to make up for years of neglected studies, and his memoir closes with a jubilant scene as he and his brother Jin are both accepted into college; for his suffering family, "thirty years of humiliation had suddenly come to an end." Chen's lucid yet emotional prose unsparingly portrays a topsy-turvy society where unfairness reigns and the rules are arbitrarily changed without warning, but his zest for life and sharp eye for character make even the most awful moments grimly funny. This is no saga of victimization, but a thrilling account of an ordeal that fosters spiritual growth. Readers will cheer Chen's triumph over daunting odds. --Wendy Smith
From Publishers Weekly
The grandchild of a former landlord--China's most spat-upon class after the Revolution--Chen was regularly beaten to a pulp by other children and, despite performing at the top of his class, repeatedly denied the right to continue at school. His family of nine--including his brother, three sisters, grandparents and parents--subsisted on moldy yams alone for entire winters. Meanwhile, his grandfather was attacked randomly by neighbors and forced by the local authorities to guard lumber and tend fields. Chen's father, with his prerevolutionary college education, eventually managed to extract himself from the labor camps by becoming skilled in acupuncture (he used the biggest needles on the hated "cadres"). At the climax of this survival story, Chen, the book's first-person narrator, and his older brother, Jin, both compete in China's first nationwide, open educational tests in 1977: "We were out to make a point. The Chen family had been dragged through the mud for the last forty years.... Now it was time." Scoring among the top 2% of the country, the 14-year-old Chen achieved his dream of attending Beijing Language Institute. According to the epilogue, after graduating with high honors, he wound up in New York at age 23, where he won a scholarship to attend Columbia Law School, and later landed a job on Wall Street and married a doctor. Despite the devastating circumstances of his childhood and adolescence, Chen recounts his coming of age with arresting simplicity. Readers will cry along with this sad, funny boy who proves tough enough to make it, every step of the painful way. Agent, Elaine Koster. 5-city author tour. (Feb.)
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