Once Upon A Time in the East: A Story of Growing Up by Xiaolu Guo

“Once Upon A Time in the East: A Story of Growing Up by Xiaolu Guo

A story so fantastical, it’s hard to believe it’s not fiction. Xiaolu had quite an upbringing. This book is her memoir and it doesn’t hold back. She includes some real pictures from her life and even calls out the person who sexually assaulted her as a teen.

In China, creativity mean compromise. Creativity no longer bore it’s original and intended meaning. Creativity under a Communist regime requires the struggle to survive under such rigid rules, and for all creative thoughts to be kept to oneself.

This is a page turner with just enough drama, passion, and politics to keep it humming along. The main character is the author, but she also goes into the backstory of her grandparents, and parents as well so this book has quite a bit of depth. This means that she touches upon different experiences in her family members lives that help you feel a little bit what it was like to live in Mao’s China: the census, one child policy, Tiananmen Square, and cultural revolution.

I am a bona fide sinophile, but I think this book will appeal to the general reader. It’s a story about the universal struggle of being a woman in difficult times. Also, as an ex-pat, the later chapters really spoke to me. The experience of searching for a mate, struggling with the long distance family relationship, and feeling like an outsider in your ‘home’ country, and your new country.

Looking at GoodReads, of all of Xiaolu Guo’s books, this is her highest rated one but I still think I have to check out some of her earlier works. She writes in a clear, and ’truthful’ manner.

Some have likened this to an updated version of Wild Swans, but I think that’s does a disservice to this book; this is better.

I had spent the last decade with one foot in each world: West and East. I couldn’t say I was fully here, and I certainly wasn’t fully there. Of course I found myself longing for the sounds of my childhood and its familiar flavours. But I have swallowed that longing. I told myself: I have lost my country and I am in exile, even if it is self-imposed. My work is all I have and my work is my only meaningful identity. But is that enough? Am I really living fully?

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #69 in my My 2019 Reading Challenge

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