We Served the People

Emei Burell. Archaia, $24.99 (160p) ISBN 978-1-68415-504-0
A daughter depicts her mother’s oral history of life in China in the 1960s and ’70s in this educational and inspiring portrait of perseverance. Yuan is 17 when she becomes a “rusticated youth”—a student who is sent from Beijing to the southern countryside during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. On a Yunnan rubber plantation, Yuan’s hard work and canny handling of her scheming superiors earns her an envied position as a tractor driver. When she returns to work in Beijing after 10 years, Yuan has to fight undermining managers to pursue her interrupted education. As Yuan moves through life, Burell’s straightforward drawings transition from solid black lines and flat colors to softer pencil lines and a muted palette. Perhaps most affecting is how Yuan credits those who helped her—a fellow driver whom she reconnects with decades later, a friend who encourages her to apply to university, a kindly official who facilitates her education, her uncle who helps her get a visa to Sweden. With poignancy and completely free of sentimentality, this illuminating personal history shows how human connection can flourish even in the most rigid of systems. (Apr.)
Reviewed on : 02/20/2020
Release date: 04/28/2020
Genre: Comics
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