The book started with one of my biggest fears in life: An aging parent going missing with me so far away from home.
Yitian picks up a phone call from his mom, learning that his estranged dad has been missing for a week. From there, we follow him on a journey to look for his father, while going into his memory of his youth in the Culture Revolution. Through Yitian’s personal story, we get an accurate taste of the 90s in China.
The first chapter of the book starts with two stories in two different times. One is set in 90s, and the other is set in the late 70s. Both eras are defining moments for China. In the 90s, China had just opened up, and urbanization was underway. In the late 70s story, we witness the life and romance of young Yitian during Culture Revolution era, one of the most confusing and unique time periods in China.
I grew up in the early 2000 and didn’t live through the 90s, so I can’t personally speak to the historical accuracy of the book. However, when I talked about the book with my mom on the phone, my mom laughed a little bit at how accurate the experience with bureaucracy is. My mom really appreciated how the book brought back a lot of memories of that time. I am grateful that the book brings the experience alive for me. I have watched some TV shows set during the Cultural Revolution, and the book described a generally similar experience. However, the book portrays a more well-rounded experience than most of the shows that I have watched. In the book, you can see the bitterness of a wasted year of youth in the Cultural Revolution, but you can also see the sweetness of first love and sincere friendships forged in the hardship.
We also experience the life of a first-generation immigrant from the new China. This generation of immigrants from China came to the U.S. working in better-paid occupations, as opposed to the early 20th century immigrants that came to the U.S. as hard laborers with no wealth at all. Even though they work in academia, engineering, or medical industries, they still face great challenges, including language barriers, cultural differences, and loneliness. The author did a great job describing these challenges.
Even though the story happened in China during a unique time, there are also many aspects that really strike a chord with anyone, regardless of your nationality. The desperation of looking for a missing parent (albeit somewhat estranged), the frustration while facing bureaucracy, and so on.
The author did a great job portraying characters at different stages of their life. You can see how a character matured and changed, but you can also see how some of their defining traits are consistent and did not change in either time.
Besides the excellent depiction of the 90s and 70s in China, the author wrote a very engaging story as well. We can sense the urgency right from the beginning of the book, when Yitian first picks the phone call from his mom. Following his actions and choices, I couldn’t help but be eager to know what happens next. The story draws you in instantly.
Belinda Huijuan Tang will talks with Christina Shimizu about her novel on Tuesday, August 16, 2022 at 7pm (PDT) at Elliott Bay Book Company at 1521 10th Avenue on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. This is a live-/in-person event. 206-624-6600 or go to elliottbaybook.com.