P. Otie, Li Kunwu, Une Vie Chinoise (French, 2009)

I really didn’t want this book to be my first review of the year, because it is truly so sad and I felt rather tepid about it. I’ve just finished A. Huxley’s Devils of Loudun and I love it, but I simply don’t have time to write about it before the weekend.

So, beware. And be patient.

This graphic novel (actually the first of a trilogy, but I don’t think I will go any further) was probably an overly stern way to start the year. If you’ve ever had an overview of the history of China during the 20C, you’ll probably remember it as a long list of tragedies.

This book follows the life of a Chinese man born in the 1950s until Mao Zedong’s death in 1976 and illustrates the tragic impact of the Maoist dictatorship on a child’s and a family’s life, through the tragic days of the Great Leap Forward (1950s) and the Cultural Revolution (1960s).

The black and white, heavy ink graphic treatment makes things even grimmer, so that it was a bit of a harrowing read, even if it was appropriate to the story told. Interesting, but not altogether a book to give or get for Christmas.

The saddest thing is that millions of people of this generation all have the same tale of starvation, death, humiliations, surveillance and brain-washing for their own childhood. My Chinese friends don’t really talk much about it with us foreigners, or between themselves apparently, but Westerners seem to have a lot of grim accounts of this period at our disposal. Isn’t it a bit warped? Certainly the preservation of the Chinese collective memory of these hardships isn’t organized or encouraged by the government. But it certainly is useful if people can express themselves about these harrowing times (even through foreign publishers) and not simply turn their backs and forget.

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