Friday, February 01, 2008


Brothers, Da Chen, Shaye Arehart Books, 2006, 421 pp

The brothers are Tan, son of a powerful general in the height of China's Cultural Revolution, and Shento, the general's illegitimate son. Tan was raised in comfort and luxury while Shento, whose mother killed herself on the day of his birth, was raised by an old healer and his wife in a small mountainside village.

As times and politics change, each brother is driven by opposing passions. Tan wants only to glorify his father and fulfill the teachings of his grandparents. Shenko survives the deaths of his forster parents and a cruel orphanage with the undying will to revenge his desertion by his true father. In a quirky plot twist both young men fall in love with Sumi, a young woman who writes a popular novel. The novel then becomes the rallying point for the democratic views of the new revolutionary party, many members of which are eventually slaughtered at Tiananmen Square.

It is a big family saga of a novel in grand American bestseller style. The writing is passable and keeps the reader breathlessly turning pages. I read this fairly long book in a day and a half. What I liked best was finally getting straight the events of this chapter in Chinese history, of which (because I've never been good at following current events) I had only a hazy concept. I have to thank Lisa See whose early political thrillers got me interested in China and Da Chen, who wrote a compelling history of times through which he actually lived.

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