BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Woman from Shanghai: Tales of Survival from a Chinese Labor Camp by Xianhui Yang, translated by Wen Huang [in Library Journal]

Woman from ShanghaiSince the 1980s, Chinese writers determined to bear witness to the atrocities of Mao’s Communist regime have bypassed censorship by writing “documentary literature,” blurring the lines between fiction and nonfiction.

Drawing on 100-plus interviews, Xianhui Yang’s 13 thinly disguised stories chronicle the brutality of the Jiabiangou labor camp in China’s Gobi Desert region. Between 1957 and 1960, some 3000 dissidents were sent to Jiabiangou. When the camp was shut down in 1961 because of mass deaths from starvation, only 500 had survived, through stealing, foraging, and even such horrifying means as culling excretions and harvesting corpses.

Verdict: While absolutely necessary as historical testimony, Woman from Shanghai is unrelentingly difficult reading and not for the faint-hearted (or stomached); recommended for readers seriously interested in 20th-century Asian history. Other less graphic alternatives include Xinran’s The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices and China Witness: Voices from a Silent Generation.

Review: “Xpress Reviews: Fiction,” Library Journal, August 21, 2009 [Whoo hoooo … my Library Journal debut!]

Readers: Adult

Published: 2009


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