cover image The House of Yan: A Family at the Heart of a Century in Chinese History

The House of Yan: A Family at the Heart of a Century in Chinese History

Lan Yan, trans. from the Chinese by Sam Taylor. Harper, $17.99 trade paper (432p) ISBN 978-0-06-289981-1

The seismic political upheavals of 20th-century China serve as the backdrop to one prominent family’s rise and fall in this comprehensive debut memoir by global banker and international relations attorney Yan. A child of privilege, Yan knew Prime Minister Zhou Enlai and Communist Party Head Deng Xiaoping, but was not exempt from “the toxic mirage of the Cultural Revolution”—the forced indoctrination of schoolchildren and attacks on those perceived to be enemies of the revolution—nor did it cushion her at age 10 when her grandfather and father, both senior civil servants, and her mother, a translator, were arrested for spying in November 1967. The nonlinear narrative then pivots to her family’s origin stories, sometimes confusingly so: grandfather Yan Baohang’s path from swineherd to Edinburgh University student and later spy for the Communist Party; father Mingfu’s crucial role in the Chinese delegation to Khrushchev’s Soviet Union; and mother Keliang, who joined the Central Committee as a liaison to foreign representatives. Yan then affectingly describes her own progression from reeducation camp in rural Henan through the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1977, to her study in Beijing and abroad, and her career in law and finance. Yan expertly captures a tumultuous period in this smart, colorful family history. (Jan.)