The Little Red Guard: A Family Memoir

Wenguang Huang. Riverhead, $25.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-59448-829-0
In his illuminating memoir, translator and freelance writer Huang chronicles growing up in central China during the 1970s. Weaving Chinese history and culture into his recollections, Huang reveals a family striving to fulfill a grandmother’s last wish during a period of rapid societal change. At 72, Huang’s grandmother became obsessed with her own death. She cajoled her family into promising they would bury rather than cremate her, a troublesome prospect for the family. The Communists, who insisted on cremation, had outlawed traditional Chinese burials. “Grandma’s request presented a dilemma for Father, who felt obligated to give grandma the burial she wanted but feared for his political future.” For the next 15 years, the family strained under the burden of the personal and financial issues involved while keeping their plans from curious authorities. Huang’s story intersects with the country’s sweeping political changes. The food rationing system was relaxed; cultural life blossomed; TV replaced radio as the main form of information and entertainment; and transportation improved. Huang studied English at a foreign language school, followed by studies in London. “Years of Communist education became like the ancient artifacts,” Huang writes. Huang’s coming-of-age story eloquently describes his family coping with change and how, in a turbulent time, he made sense of the world. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/30/2012
Release date: 04/26/2012
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