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Book description

This is a sad little collection containing one novella entitled The Waves and five short stories -- all taking place during the Cultural Revolution with its Red Guard disturbances in which so millions of Chinese lost their lives and so many families were disturbed so that young city-dwellers would work on collective farms or factories in distant parts of the country. In the first story, In the Ruins, a professor contemplates suicide and begins to muse as he sees some old ruins:Standing before him was Chinas history, the history of the last decades, or even of the last centuries or millenia. The endless arrogance and revolt, dissipation and vice; the rivers of blood and mountains of bones; the sumptuous yet desolate cities, palaces, and tombs; the thousands upon thousands of horses and soldiers mirrored against the huge canopy of the heavens; the axe on the execution block, dripping with blood; the sundial with its shadow revolving around the glossy stone slab; the thread-bound hand-copied books piled in dusty secret rooms; the long, mournful sound of the night watchman beating his wooden rattle ... all these together formed those desolate ruins.The author, Bei Dao, tried hard to convey his image, but either because it was such a bleak one, or because the translator failed to make the story meaningful to an occidental such as myself, I was always just on the point of getting involved, but never was able to make the jump.China scholar Jonathan D. Spence spoke highly of this book in The New York Times Book Review and of Bonnie S. MacDougall and Susette Tennent Cookes translation for this New Directions edition. In fact, that is why I bought this book. I am still pleased that I read Waves, primarily because there is so little of merit that comes down to us from this period; and Bei Dao writes a hauntingly sad book about lost lives. But his technical skills may not be up to multiple viewpoints in a 100-page novella, as, I think, few authors are. This collection does make me wonder whether much of the news coverage about the new China, flush with the wealth of the West, still has a back story behind all the prosperity. When I hear of mass suicides of workers who jump out of the windows of their iPod factory dormitories, I wonder how much China has really succeeded where it counts the most, in the hearts of its people.

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