First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
Shanghai, 1949: It was a tumultuous moment in Chinese history, when changes wrought by the Communist victory were beginning to sweep the land. Seventeen-year-old Guan Ling-ling, idealistic and headstrong, renounces her life of middle-class privilege to join a revolutionary theater group that will bring reforms to the countryside. A city-bred schoolgirl, Ling-ling suddenly finds herself in a world so far from her own experience that she can barely understand the lives she has been sent to change. From the moment she enters tiny Longxiang (“The Dragon’s Village”) – a dusty hamlet in one of China’s most remote and impoverished areas – un unrelenting flood of events engulfs her: plots and counterplots, acts of violence, midnight raids, even glimmers of first love. Author Yuan-tsung Chen was a land-reform worker in Gansu Province in the 1950s. Her vivid autobiographical novel gives us history with a human face – a true insider’s view of a revolution that has long been wrapped in mystery and propaganda.
And, another work week has culminated. I hope that you have had a great workweek and that you are ending it on a high note. Weekends, here we come! However, if you struggled during the week, I hope you get the coming two days to rest, relax, and reflect. With everything that has been happening, I can definitely understand where the exasperation is coming from. If the previous two months have been challenging, I hope that the rest of the year will be great. I hope that you are all doing well, in body, mind, and spirit. I can’t wait for this pandemic to end soon; thankfully, the COVID19 situation here in the Philippines has become better in the past few weeks. I hope the same holds true for the rest of the world.
With the closing of the work week comes a new First Impression Friday update. In the first two months of the year, I have been focusing on reading books published in 2021, books I originally intended to read towards the end of 2021. However, as March is considered Women’s History Month, I have decided to shift to reading novels written by women. I intend it to be a celebration of their legacy, not just in literature but in all facets of life. This journey commenced with Nobel Laureate in Literature Olga Tokarczuk’s The Books of Jacob, which also served as my transition from my 2021 reading catch-up. I am now immersing myself in my fourth book for the month, Yuan-tsung Chen’s The Dragon’s Village.
It was just recently that I came across Chen and her book, which carried the subtitle: An Autobiographical Novel of Revolutionary China. This was enough to catch my attention and pique my interest. This is also aligned with my goal of expanding my reading adventures in Chinese literature. I have realized that my foray into Chinese literature is quite limited. To redress this, I have been acquiring more works of Chinese writers. It is my fervent hope that The Dragon’s Village would kick it off to a good start. Chen was born in Shanghai, China, before migrating to the United States in 1972.
The novel charted the story of Guan Ling-ling, who was in his teenage years when revolution swept her homeland. The victory of the Communists was resounding and it ushered in a period of reform, some radical. One of these reforms extensively dealt with in the part of the novel I have read so far is the land reform. I have previously read of land reforms but in the Vietnamese context through Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s The Mountains Sing. The rise of land reforms meant one thing: the fall of the feudal system. It was also the promise that China’s revolutionary government carried. Following the victory of the Communists, Ling-ling joined a theater troupe. This group planned to travel to the provinces to act as mouthpieces for the government’s reforms.
The troupe travel to the village of Longxiang, the titular Dragon’s Village, in the province of Gansu. While Ling-ling expected festivities and a grand welcome, what greeted them was a less than hospitable welcome. Far-removed from the comforts of her privilege, Longxiang came as a shock to Ling-ling. I am a third done with the book and I must say that I like the flow of the story, so far. It was proceeding at a steady pace. However, some things remain obscure. It is still a mystery why Ling-ling joined the troupe and agreed to travel to the rural areas? There was no indication of a shift in her ideals in the earlier pages of the novel. Rather, there were no indications of any ideologies. It would be great if Chen would elaborate on it as the story moves forward.
The book is easy to read. I am interested in how she will paint the revolution and what made her move to the United States. I am holding on to the promise of the book’s subtitle. I hope it won’t disappoint. How about you fellow reader? What book are you digging into the weekend? I hope you are enjoying it. For now, happy reading, and have a happy weekend!