Liviu's Reviews > Fire from the Sun

Fire from the Sun by John Derbyshire
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's review
Jul 23, 2014

it was amazing
bookshelves: 2012_release_read, mainstream, read_2012, t_notable_books_2012
Read from February 16 to 17, 2012

Here I am talking about the ebook release of the author a day or so ago (mid -Feb) of the whole novel so far only on Amazon/Kindle with other platforms coming soon.

As Goodreads in a misguided ideological move is not using the Amazon data any more so losing tons of editions/books in the process, I am forced to use this old xlibris edition to talk about the book at least for now, but know that you can get the full book electronically (comes at over 900 pages print ) on Amazon for 5.99$

Anyway despite its length the book is a page turner and you will go through it in a flash. While the prose is the clear straightforward one of NYT bestsellers (eg Ken Follett) so nothing fancy and in consequence the emotional content is lost on occasion when major things happen or are revealed, the attraction of the novel is not in its literary qualities but in the events seen through the eyes of the two main characters in alternating chunks of pages, with some convergence towards the end.

Starting in a provincial Chinese town in 1965, our main heroes - Weilin/William and Yuezhu/Margaret are 8 year olds that meet and become best friends (and feel the first stirrings of attraction without of course knowing what is it) at the town pool.

Weilin is from an "intellectual" family and his dad is a math professor at the local college, while they have books, vinyl records and other trappings of the educated of the time and place and the boy, only child, is very handsome, bright and quite interested in math and reading.

Yuezhu is from a politically correct family - her father is an army officer of peasant stock and firm revolutionary principles though even in the People's Army, careers rise and fall depending on whose commander's commander is ascending or descending. Yuezhu is beautiful, loves dancing and music and while she is not that interested in math she likes being around with Weilin and they keep meeting despite being at different schools; however Yuezhu is also in awe of her older half brother, a rebellious teen who becomes a main leader of the Red Guards when the Cultural Revolution is unleashed soon after.

The expected happens - Weilin's dad is "struggled" - denounced, publicly humiliated and then beaten to death - while colleagues and even close friends from the university forsake him and compete to have the loudest denunciations, Half Brother is among the leaders of the torturers and Yuezhou is in the "little red guards" cheering them up, while Weilin is forced to denounce his father and is ignored and humiliated by the girl too

Later their life continues on these opposite tracks - Weilin and his mother make the trek north to the wastelands of Chinese Siberia where she has some relatives and he seems to be condemned to a (probably short) life of material misery and intellectual poverty, while Yuezhou moves to Beijing a few years later when her father's faction in the military wins and he is promoted, and the girl becomes part of the elite schools of the capital, learns English and sees Nixon at a performance, while later is accepted at the prestigious Dance Academy just opened, part of the efforts to start bringing China in the modern world.

However, Weilin - handsome and all - makes easy friends with a local teen wheeler and dealer and later they decide to escape to Hong Kong of fable where Weilin's mom told him that she has an uncle.

And so the saga starts and we follow the two on tumultuous paths in many places from China, Tibet and Hong Kong to later the US and almost everywhere; their fortunes twist and turn, their paths cross though not necessarily in expected ways and the book just begs you to turn the pages.

Punctuated by wonderful Chinese stories that various characters use to make this or that point, the book is truly panoramic and a wonderful, wonderful and gripping read.

Highly recommended.

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