In my own writing, I’ve often explored the tolls it took on personal relationships. So last week I was quite excited to read Xujun Eberlein’s collection of short stories, Apologies Forthcoming: Stories Not About Mao (Blacksmith Books, 2009).
Eberlein is on the level of standouts like Li Yiyun and Guo Xiaolu. Her writing is clear and poetic, and focuses usually on strong female characters (although the last piece tells the story of two men from the same hometown in Sichuan who reunite 30 years later in Boston).
Her message is clear: the Cultural Revolution was so damaging that even years later it continued to touch people’s lives no matter how much they thought it was behind them.
I like how her stories vary. One deals with the pain of a family whose Red Guard daughter drowns. Another tackles the chilling realization that a woman’s boyfriend was in fact the Red Guard who led the raid on her father decades earlier.
And others tell of the isolation of the ‘inserts’ or teenage city dwellers who are sent to the countryside to learn from the peasants and the tensions between them and the peasants.
What I took from these stories is that a certain generation in China will probably never escape the Cultural Revolution. I think it’s important that we don’t forget this period, one that is still very vivid in many minds.