Where I got the book: purchased on Kindle. This was read for my daughter’s Book Wizards group (composed of cognitively disabled adults) and I actuallyWhere I got the book: purchased on Kindle. This was read for my daughter’s Book Wizards group (composed of cognitively disabled adults) and I actually borrowed her Kindle Fire so I could experience Whispersync immersion reading, where you hear the audiobook narration and the ebook follows along. I found the process a bit slow, as I clearly read much faster than the narrator, but it was kind of relaxing and it did focus my mind on the book. I read much of it in the plane, and found listening through my earbuds pleasantly distracting from the small children. Why do I always end up near small children on domestic flights? ’Tis a mystery.
Anyway, the book. This is a memoir ostensibly written for a young audience, because it covers the writer’s life from the age of 12 to 14. And yet as an adult reader I found it sufficiently challenging, since it deals with the Mao years of Chinese history and there was a lot I don’t know.
At the time of writing we’re in the 1960s, when the Cultural Revolution is well under way. Ji-Li has grown up in an environment where Chairman Mao is pretty much worshipped and to be a good revolutionary is the pinnacle of every child’s desire. She buys into everything she’s been taught completely and as a class valedictorian and athlete she envisions a glowing future for herself.
The first sign of trouble comes when Ji-Li is invited to audition for a revolutionary performance troupe. Her parents inform her that she won’t succeed because of their class status. This was a notion with which I wasn’t familiar, but it pervades the book—Ji-Li’s grandfather was a landlord, one of the “black” or anti-revolutionary categories (Mao’s thinking put landlords and criminals in the same basket). As the Cultural Revolution progresses, Ji-Li and her family are increasingly victimized and stigmatized, stripped of their belongings and forced to serve their community in menial roles. Ji-Li comes under pressure (and you need to remember she’s still a child at that point) to dissociate herself from her family in order to become a true revolutionary.
Narrator Christina Moore did a good job putting a voice to Ji-Li’s story, capturing both the revolutionary fervor of the young, Ji-Li’s devastation as her life changes, and her inner struggle to hold on to her sense of self and cope with the shame she feels. I think part of my feeling that the audio was slow was that Moore was narrating for a younger audience who need a little extra time to grasp the new concepts that the book brings to a Western audience.
Even for adults, I’d recommend this memoir as a gateway to understanding the Cultural Revolution and seeing how the attempt to build a fairer society gets twisted into a dog-eat-dog power struggle once you apply dogma (pun not intended, but I’m quite pleased with it) to people’s lives. There’s a glossary at the end to help guide you through the more unfamiliar terms, and I enjoyed Jiang’s writing....more
Where I got the book: purchased from Amazon. A Book Wizards book club read.
This was one of those books I managed to miss reading during my childhood yWhere I got the book: purchased from Amazon. A Book Wizards book club read.
This was one of those books I managed to miss reading during my childhood years—I wonder what impression it would have made on me then? It is, of course, Helen Keller’s own story about how her teacher Annie Sullivan helped her escape the dark and silent world an early illness had thrust her into by teaching the deaf and blind girl to communicate via touch and, eventually, speech.
I found many aspects of Helen’s story fascinating, although I wasn’t entirely sure I would have liked Helen had I met her. She admits to being a tyrant in her early years—to bullying the little black girl who was assigned to serve her and to venting her frustration on all those around her—and I suspect that the amount of attention she received as she grew up probably left its mark, despite the sugary-sweet language she uses in the style of her era. In an age where disability is seen as no bar to being out in the community, to employment and to acceptance, it’s hard to imagine how limited Helen’s prospects must have seemed when she was a child—and that was an aspect of things much discussed by the Book Wizards, who are all themselves cognitively disabled. And yet, then as now, the solution was money—Helen’s parents had the resources to employ a full-time, live-in teacher and this, combined with Helen’s high level of intelligence, determination and the gift of study, ensured that she was able to live up to her full potential. Teachers of the twenty-first century might note that Helen became proficient in several languages, both ancient and modern—how much we’ve lost!
The edition I’m reviewing (the “Restored Edition” from Modern Library) is an excellent one, with plenty of photos (it’s amazing how many celebrities of the day Helen met, another indication of her privileged life) and supplemental materials such as letters and a piece written by Annie Sullivan. I didn’t get round to reading them, but I’m hoping to at some point....more
There are some people whose lives intersect during an era in which great changes occur; there are others who are instrumental in ensuring that those changes happen. Eleanor Marx, Karl Marx’s youngest daughter, was both. The background to “Tussy’s” childhood and young adulthood were the writing of Marx’s masterwork, Das Kapital, and Tussy – polyglot, largely homeschooled and described by her mother as political from head to toe – not only absorbed socialism in its broadest and most international sense, but expanded on it and saw to its practical application after her father’s death.
Holmes’s lucidly written biography of a woman whose role in the arenas of social justice and feminism is not nearly well enough appreciated held me spellbound from beginning to end. Through Eleanor’s life, Holmes paints a fascinating, extensive picture of late Victorian life in England and America and continental Europe that could easily serve as a reference point for further exploration, and yet is detailed enough to satisfy the general reader. I had one small issue – I’m not sure if the year of publisher Henry Vizetelly’s death is given correctly – but that’s a minor point given the sheer scope of the work. Highly recommended both as a historical reference ‘keeper’ and as a good read....more