Spoiler alert. This book is depressing. SUPER depressing. I purposely saved this gem for a time when I am not pregnant because I knew I would not be able to handle it in a highly charged emotional state. That being said, I still cried.
Xinrin was born in Beijing and became a radio presenter after Deng Xiaoping loosened regulations in the 1980s. Xinran’s program was called Words on the Night Breeze and from what I could gather aired from 10 PM to midnight. During her time as the presenter of the show thousands of letters came pouring in mostly from women. Many of these letters lead to stories that were heard over the radio, but others did not meet the strict regulations. Xinran moved to London and began to write their stories down down so they would not be lost. In the prologue of the book Xinrin tells of being mugged in London while she had the only finished copy of her manuscript in her bag. She fought viciously and when police asked what was so important she told him her book. She wanted to give voice to many who had been silenced, or never learned to speak about their own pain.
Each chapter of the book could almost be taken as its own essay. They deal with sadness, abuse, loss, tragedy. Yep, cheery stuff. Over the course, we also learn a bit about Xinran’s own family history. It becomes clear why Xinran is drawn to these stories about women who mourn. Xinran’s writing style is matter of fact in portions and poetic in other portions. Both these styles fit together nicely and give relief to the harsh subject matter. A criticism that could be leveled is that the lives of Chinese women can not possibly be that bleak. There is no balance, but arguably Xinran wasn’t trying to write a book showing healthy and balanced lives. She was writing about lives that echoed her own and giving relief to people who would never have the opportunity to share their sorrows with a larger audience. So yes, her tale is hopeless. There is no little glimmer of anything better anywhere.
This was a compelling read. I could see book clubs getting into this as it would generate interesting discussion. Those interested in China might also enjoy this book, but I am still looking for different books about China. I’d like to read one that didn’t have the feel of anti state propaganda that goes too far in the opposite direction.