My Old Home

Orville Schell. Pantheon, $29.95 (624p) ISBN 978-0-593-31581-1
This gripping if occasionally didactic debut novel by Schell (Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty-First Century), a director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations, touches on the personal and the political in 20th-century China. In 1966, 14-year-old Li Wende witnesses the torture and arrest of his pianist father, a target of the Cultural Revolution. Li Wende then ends up in a labor camp in a remote village in Tibet comically known as “Yak Springs.” In satirical scenes that bring to mind M*A*S*H and Catch-22, nerve-wracking political terror gives way to a hilariously bawdy picaresque featuring a pair of hogs named Nikita and Nina Kruschev who live in a sty beneath the camp’s latrine. Incompetent, vain, and lazy functionaries and glum inmates contrast with the local nomadic yak herders, whom Li Wende befriends to his benefit. After toiling in the camp for 10 years, he returns to Beijing and reconnects with an old friend who has become active in the student-led pro-Democracy movement. Despite the novel’s many charms and Schell’s lush lyrical descriptions, the patchwork of anecdotes doesn’t add up to much of a plot, and frequent asides on Chinese history and culture interrupt the narrative. Still, readers may find the rollicking ride worth the lecture, and there’s no denying the riveting subject matter. (Mar.)
Reviewed on : 01/11/2021
Release date: 03/09/2021
Genre: Fiction
Book - 978-0-593-31582-8
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