The Diary of Ma Yan: The Struggles and Hopes of a Chinese Schoolgirl
Ma Yan, Yan Ma, , edited by Pierre Haski, trans. from the French by Lisa Appignanesi. . HarperCollins, $15.99 (166pp) ISBN 978-0-06-076496-8
This affecting volume collects diary entries penned by a Hui Muslim girl living with her family in a single-room house in rural China. In his articulate introduction, Haski explains how Ma Yan's mother came to hand him the diary that her daughter (now 16) kept when she was 13 and 14. Ma Yan's illiterate mother, while suffering from an ulcer, undertook a job of hard labor hundreds of miles from home to pay for her daughter's education. The girl's determination to excel at school figures prominently in the entries: "I must work really hard in order to go to university later. Then I'll get a good job, and Mother and Father will at last have a happy life." Though frequent restatements of this goal, numerous references to Ma Yan's fear of disappointing her mother and recaps of similar classroom incidents make for rather repetitious reading, they do underscore the girl's extraordinary resolve, generosity of spirit and resilience. Many of the details will open youngsters' eyes (e.g., Ma Yan went without food for days to save money to buy a pen; each weekend, she and her brother walked more than 12 miles to and from school, where they boarded during the week and often went hungry). This heartfelt diary inspired the creation of the Association for the Children of Ningxia (to which a portion of the book's proceeds will be donated), dedicated to helping others like Ma Yan stay in school. Ages 10-up.
Reviewed on: 08/15/2005