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Once Upon a Time in the East: A Story of…

Once Upon a Time in the East: A Story of Growing Up

by Xiaolu Guo

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202515,329 (4.63)5



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I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I like to read memoirs and especially those where the author is writing about something which really holds your interest. This is one of those books. I found the description of the author's childhood totally absorbing. Her life in a small fishing village, living with her grandparents, was so totally different to my own childhood in the UK. And then suddenly her parents appear from nowhere and she is taken away to live in a city and her life changes significantly.

This is a fascinating read. The transition from childhood to independent adulthood and from rural China to the world beyond China is so well described. There are some shocking parts, not least the reflections on identity and the effect of dual citizenship. ( )
  Elainedav | Jul 20, 2017 |
[Once Upon a time in the East]

"The protagonists of my favourite books were all orphans. They were parentless, self- made heroes. They had had to create themselves, since they had come from nothing and no inheritance. In my own way I too was self-made. I was born and then flung aside, to survive in a rocky village by the ocean. If I had to pinpoint a moment when this thought crystallised in my mind, it was that day on the beach in Shitang when I met the art students drawing in their sketch pads facing a sunless, wavy -grey sea . I was six years old and consumed by an ineffable loneliness."

Novelist's memoir of growing up in rural China, witness to the dramatic changes as China industrialised. Guo was repeatedly abandoned, once to a childless couple, and then at two to her violent grandfather and his illiterate wife. She is fierce about the lip service paid to gender equality through Communism and the regular abuse many women experienced in reality.

At it's best those is a window into a different world, in some cases, as in her childhood fishing community, now all but gone. Her descriptions of witnessing performance art in early 21st century Beijing made me wish the book was longer. Throughout there is the bleak theme of the failure of her relationship with her mother, a family rupture that feels far more universal, if less compelling to me.

"For example, my grammar book said: ‘Peter had been painting his house for weeks, but he finally gave up.’ My immediate reaction even before I got to the grammar explanation was: my God, how could someone paint his house for weeks and still give up? I just couldn’t see how time itself could regulate people’s actions as if they were little clocks! As for the grammar, the word order had been and the added flourishes like ing made my stomach churn. They were bizarre decorations that did nothing but obscure a simple, strong building." ( )
  charl08 | Feb 20, 2017 |
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