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The Little Red Guard: A Family Memoir Hardcover – April 26, 2012
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There’s a funny and telling scene in Huang’s memoir in which the author, raised in central China in the 1970s, recalls his first trip to London on a student visa, and recounts his wonder at seeing grass grown just to be mowed. Yet as mysterious and misunderstood as the West is to Huang, so his description of life under Mao will come as a revelation to readers. The food rationing, party politics, and Cultural Revolution that Westerners have a vague knowledge of are all viewed through the highly personal lens of Huang’s family. Using his grandmother’s stubborn insistence on a traditional burial, banned under Mao, as a set piece, Huang demonstrates the tightrope many Chinese walked between their personal belief in ancient Confucian teachings and the public demands of the Communist government. Restrictions are relaxed, only to be renewed, and Huang struggles to come to terms with where his true allegiances lie. Today, as China continues to rapidly evolve, Huang, who now resides in the U.S., is firmly on the side of family and freedom. --Patty Wetli
“The Little Red Guard—his first book—establishes Wenguang Huang as a master storyteller. Vividly engaging and often surprising, this memoir of coming of age in an ordinary Chinese family amid the social and political wreckage of Mao’s Cultural Revolution is uncommonly wise and deeply moving.” —Philip Gourevitch, author of The Ballad of Abu Ghraib and We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families
“With brilliant humanistic insights, Wenguang Huang reveals how the terrors of youth, both large and small, imprint our lives with psychic markers and force us, eventually, to confront the irrational foundation on which strong character can be found.”—Patrick Tyler, author of A Great Wall: Six Presidents and China
“Just as he has done in his translated works, Wenguang has transformed the intimate stories of a Chinese family into a gripping book that will appeal to readers of all cultures.” —Liao Yiwu, author of The Corpse Walker: Real Life Stories, China from the Bottom Up
“Delightful… a book that brings a corner of modern China alive—a book filled with humor, family squabbles and ordinary life in a large city in a one-party state... [with] echoes of J.D. Salinger.”—Wall Street Journal
“A gripping, lyrical memoir…revealing, ironic and effortlessly elegant.”—Chicago Tribune
“A riveting, well-crafted story…at times comic and at times heartbreaking... [with] plenty of fresh and unforgettable revelations.”—Oprah.com (pick of the week)
“Perfect, moving.”—The Daily Beast
“Illuminating… Huang’s coming-of-age story eloquently describes his family coping with change and how, in a turbulent time, he made sense of the world.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A memoir centered on a coffin? Yes, and it works.”—O, The Oprah Magazine
“A trenchantly observed story that depicts the clash of traditional and modern Chinese culture with a powerful combination of sensitivity and mordant irony.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Another interesting way to look at China, something readers crave.”—Library Journal
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The tale unfolds at the level of "ordinary" people living in near poverty and obedience to authority. Yet, as the grandson grows into manhood and samples the best of Western education, his slavish devotion to Party rapidly fades. Hiding a coffin no longer seems a foolish violation of government rule but more a symbol of family ties that trump any doctrines dictators may try to impose.
The irony of life bleeds through the pages. In some ways, it is so painful, it can only make you laugh. Through obedience comes disobedience, especially with family - both the one who raises you with their sweat and tears, and the one that governs your country.
The permanent influences of political unrest is prominent in Wenguang Huang and his family's life, but "The Little Red Guard" only reminds you that "small" family matters can still counter massive political movements anywhere in the world, China or otherwise.
All in all, "The Little Red Guard" is a fluid read and an easy hook to catch on to - a story you only hope will resolve. You don't need to know much about China, communism, or feel politically/socially enraged to understand and to feel the workings of a family living beyond just living, no matter the limitations.
This book is a view into a culture and a family that, in final analysis, is not really that much different than my own. The book begins with a simple request by an aging grandmother that she be buried next to her husband and not be cremated, as was the requirement to conserve land in Communist China. We move through the years with Wenguang's family as his father struggles to honor his mother's request, even though that may jeopardize his career and status in the community and even though it may endanger him and his family. As time went on, Wenguang's father died, and the burden of honoring the last wishes of Wenguang's grandmother passed to him and the rest of his family.
This book was well-written, is interesting and was a joy to read. I am so glad Wenguang wrote this book to share some of his life and experiences with us. The language, culture and customs of China may be different from the U.S., but matters of the heart are universal, and this book was written from the heart. I definitely recommend this book and hope purchasers enjoy reading it as much as I have.
The book is witty, fluent, and hard to put down once you started - and like watching a good movie, it lingers in your mind for a long time even after you finish it.