BEFORE MAO: The Untold Story of Li Lisan and the Creation of Communist China

Patrick Lescot, Author , trans. from the French by Steven Rendall. Ecco $26.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-06-008464-6

A longtime journalist in Asia and editor-in-chief of the news service Agence France-Presse, Lescot has found a moving love story amid one of the most violent periods of human history. Li Lisan (1899–1967) was co-founder of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP); caught in the tumult of China's civil war, dehumanized under the oppression of Stalin's Moscow, and despite years in prison in both the Soviet gulag and in China, Lisan somehow kept the devoted love of Elisabeth Kishkin, a Komsomol member he met as a young Communist in Russia. Centered on these unlucky lovers, Lescot's account neatly introduces readers to France's early Communists, whom Li met while studying there in the early 1920s; to Stalin's temper and its mortal consequences for those around him; and to the CCP's long struggle to turn Communist ideology into state policy. Lescot's vivid and engrossing account explains how Li, an unswerving patriot and Communist rumored in the popular presses to have been martyred at least three times fighting Communist enemies, eventually died during the Cultural Revolution at the hand of his own comrades. Though the book is in parts marked by distractingly hackneyed language (possibly a fault of the translation), nothing lessens the power of Li and Elisabeth's romance. Obstacles made insurmountable by the time of the Sino-Soviet split are made more stirring by the couple's small victories and brief reunions. By book's end, Lescot has turned a bleak history of mankind's cruelty into a passionate story of love's endurance. (Feb. 12)

Reviewed on: 01/12/2004
Release date: 02/01/2004
Paperback - 400 pages - 978-0-06-008465-3
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