Saturday, September 22, 2012

Under the Hawthorn Tree by Ai Mi

I think the back story behind this book is more interesting than the book itself.  It first appeared on the author's website in 2007 when it became an immediate sensation in China.  The media attention increased with the release of a film version by one of China's premier directors in 2010.  The story is set during the Cultural Revolution and has sold millions of copies which is particularly surprising given that the author, who writes under a pseudonym, makes it available for free on her blog.

The story is that of Jingqiu, a naive young woman from a poor and politically questionable family in the city.  She is chosen as one of a small group of students to be sent to the countryside to work on a textbook about the local peasants in an effort to further the Cultural Revolution.  There she fall is love with the son of an army general.  The story revolves around her fear of being found out - though she is so naive she's not even sure what she's supposed to be avoiding.  Eventually she realizes she has done nothing wrong but at that point it's too late for their relationship to develop.

There are other scenes of the difficult temporary work she must endure to help her family make ends meet, her interaction with other boys in her life, and her relationship with her mother as well as a caring doctor who she admires.  Though the language is lyrical, the action moves too slowly and it was only in the last 15 or 20 pages when I really felt hooked.  That being said, this book does give unusual insight into what occurred during China's Cultural Revolution.

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