Ai Mi, Under the Hawthorn Tree

Anansi International, ISBN 978-1-77089-350-4

It is 1974. The Cultural Revolution in China is in full swing. Teen student Jingqiu is sent to a distant rural village with other students who have done well in her school’s essay-writing competition. Their job: to document a ‘history of the peasants’ to be used as a school textbook. It is all very much in line with party policy. But when she meets the son of a cadre — a Communist party official — she will begin to learn what love is, even if love, real love, between the son of a cadre and a girl with a “bad class background” is not merely impossible — it is unthinkable. If their love is discovered, the consequences could be dire …

I don’t usually read books like this — I’m much more a fantasy and SF reader than a reader of romance. But this book deserves the wide readership it has gotten in China, and deserves an equally wide readership in its English translation.

What is striking about this book is the tension between youthful innocence and the world in which that innocence must live — a world in which everyone is under suspicion of bourgeois thinking, in which anyone can be denounced, and people can be banished to the country, never to return. Within this world, Jingqiu must maneuver to survive — and learn whether the love of her life loves her or is about to turn her life into another cautionary tale. The language is simple, but the effects are deep. Jingqiu’s innocence provides a lens that makes the corruption around her all the more heart-rending because she takes it completely for granted.

Read this book. You won’t regret it.

I got an advance review copy of this book at Book Expo America. I have no other connection with the publisher. It will be released in October, 2013.

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