Monday, April 18, 2016

On "Apologies Forthcoming" by Xujun Eberlein ****

This book, written by a Chinese ex-patriot, revolves around the Chinese Cultural Revolution. As such, for a person who has not studied greatly into the subject, the work was immensely interesting. When I was younger, I preferred fiction because I felt that it provided me better insight into a given time and place than history books could. Perhaps, if I were back in school and more focused in my reading, fiction would become my favorite genre again--and books like Eberlein's would be key to making that happen.

My one previous reading into the Cultural Revolution was a paper/memoir written by a classmate in an autobiography class I once took. A Chinese immigrant himself, my classmate decided to focus on his experiences then rather than on the fiction early American narrative we were asked. I wish I'd spent more time reading the work for what it was now, rather than being focused on giving feedback and wondering how the memoir fit into the class assignment.

Eberlein's book contains eight stories of essentially even quality. In the opening story, "Snow Line," a man writes a poem that take the nation by storm--a poem that is not explicitly Maoist. The story is a commentary on art amid all-encompassing political idealism. Unlike most of the stories in the collection, the focus seems more on art than on politics. Many of the stories, including "Pivot Point" and "The Randomness of Love," involve innocent and/or adulterous love

"Feathers" is about a girl who tries to hide from her little sister and grandmother the knowledge that her older sister has died while doing Maoist work in the country, going even so far as to hire someone to pose as her older sister coming back for a visit.

In "Men Don't Apologize," a girl goes to work for a bus manufacturer and discovers why bus accidents often occur. She also finds the man who accused her father of being a capitalist during the revolution, but when she tries to bring the two together to bury the hatchet, she discovers that forgiveness does not come easily.

"Watch the Thrill" discusses harrowing events from the point of view of boys who have no understanding of them--who in fact find joy in watching people beat up, chased, and killed, so much so that they actually prevent one man from running to safety after committing a potentially revolutionary act, if not an act of revenge.

"Disiple of the Masses" focuses on a city girl who goes to live in the country to help out farmers. There, she discovers that rather than being an aid, she is a spy.

The collection ends with a tale told in the United States, many years after the events. This look back seems a particularly good way to draw the work to a close.

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