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Through a collection of stories, Xujun Eberlein weaves poignant tales with the common thread being China's Cultural Revolution. Eberlein's stories reveal the impact of the revolution on the individual and how it shaped the decisions and actions both during and well after the revolution. Through the intimacy of her writing, it is apparent that Eberlein has a powerful understanding of the revolution, the people who experienced it, and their stories. It is with this knowledge that she shapes often unforgettable tales that reveal the personal turmoil, familial conflict, and societal indifference of a nation of people caught in the revolution and its aftermath.
The tones of the stories range from intense passion to distant indifference. This disparity seems to work well with the characters as it clearly shows the impact of the atrocities that occurred during the revolution. The passion is evident in Shanzi, a young city insert sent into the country, in "Disciple of the Masses." Cloaked in the naive passion of the cause, she seems often unaware of the direness of her situation.
Indifference proves shocking in "Watch the Thrill," as Eberlein tells the story of two young boys in the midst of national turmoil. Within the limitations of the Cultural Revolution, the boys find themselves bored and looking for excitement. A horrific event occurs before their eyes. What is shocking is not so much the event itself (as it appears to be a common occurrence during the revolution), but the shear indifference of one of the boys to the pain of a young man from their neighborhood who is headed for his death.
Eberlein reveals the challenges of relationships during era of the Cultural Revolution in the connecting tales, "Pivot Point" and "The Randomness of Love." By tracing the evolving relationship of a young educated woman and her married lover, Eberlein reveals the difficulty of making connections and maintaining them. Although this situation is common, what is riveting is the the path that Eberlein takes the young woman on; a path that will ultimately lead to either hope or utter despair.
The remaining tales feature young people figuring out who they are, families torn apart, friendships tested, and loyalties betrayed all occurring within the constraints of a pivotal time in China's history. With each story, Eberlein pulls in the reader with her honest narratives, strong characterizations, and simple and casual language.
As a regular reader of world and multicultural literature, I felt that Eberlein's writing style was rather unique in that she was able to capture the indifference and the passion weaved within her stories with a rather simple and honest style. Often it is easy to get caught up in the language and neglect the authenticity of the story. Clearly, no apologies are needed as Eberlein delivers an influential and unforgettable collection of tales.
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So much to say and so little space to say it! I just realized how much I had going on at the original "From the Cheap Seats" and decided to start a little cousin blog. This blog will focus on book reviews and writings of a more creative nature.