cover image Naked Earth

Naked Earth

Eileen Chang. New York Review Books, $16.95 trade paper (344p) ISBN 978-1-59017-834-8

An unrelenting portrait of love and loss in Maoist China, Chang’s novel was originally commissioned in the 1950s as anticommunist propaganda by the U.S. Information Service. Shanghai-born Chang (Love in a Fallen City) writes with a survivor’s clear-eyed frankness about how Mao’s policies punished China’s people, leaving no one, even those in positions of power, untouched. The narrative tracks Liu Ch’uen and Su Nan, idealistic students who confront the realities of Chinese Communism when they are deployed to the countryside with the Land Reform Workers Corps. As they discover how its implementation falls short of its original conception, they bond and fall in love. Chang follows Liu to Shanghai when he is promoted, an opportunity to expose the Party’s bureaucratic failings, turncoat allegiances, and inhumane toll on urban communities. Chang does not shy away from gritty details, including executions. She writes, “The whole country lay stretched out like an open palm, ready to close around any one person at any minute.” Amid such harrowing descriptions, Chang develops a tragic wartime romance that leaves readers with a painfully clear picture of just how deeply Mao’s reign scarred her native country. (Mar.)