In 1944, when Song Nan Zhang was not yet three, he saw a baby tiger outside the hut in the mountains where he and his mother were living. The tiger returned twice before disappearing into the bamboo forest forever. For a child to see a tiger meant luck, but Song Nan Zhang wasn’t sure if living in China was lucky or not. Life was so difficult that sometimes he felt like the lost tiger itself, hoping for a home only to be forced back into the ...
In 1944, when Song Nan Zhang was not yet three, he saw a baby tiger outside the hut in the mountains where he and his mother were living. The tiger returned twice before disappearing into the bamboo forest forever. For a child to see a tiger meant luck, but Song Nan Zhang wasn’t sure if living in China was lucky or not. Life was so difficult that sometimes he felt like the lost tiger itself, hoping for a home only to be forced back into the dark.
In this, his autobiography, Song Nan Zhang paints the dispersal of his family, his development as an artist, the humor that lightened some of the more difficult times, and finally, his journey to Canada.
Zhang, a Chinese artist who has lived in Canada since the Tiananmen Square uprising of 1989, ``tells and paints'' this autobiography, which not only summarizes his own experiences but offers insights into ``the human dimension of China'' over the past half-century. Seven years old when the Communists gained control of China in 1949, he remembers his pride upon receiving the red scarf of the Young Pioneers. His high school education included farmwork, dam construction and ``self-criticism meetings.'' He describes severe food shortages and other privations, but these cede quickly to the horrors of the Cultural Revolution, during which his family was persecuted. In 1984, Zhang left China for the first time and went to France, where that country's relative wealth convinced him that ``everything I had been told, everything I had believed, was a lie.'' As he watches a boy sketch a Rodin sculpture, the middle-aged artist is flooded with an awareness of lost opportunities. Zhang's mural-like paintings light up the paradox of good intentions coexisting with cruel zeal. A quiet voice narrates events that carry their own thunder. Maps and a historical outline are appended. Ages 12-up. (Nov.)
- Gisela Jernigan
Subtitled an Autobiography in Art, the talented painter tells us about his life in China using both text and many beautiful, full-page watercolors and smaller, black and white drawings. As a young child during World War II, while hiding from the Japanese in a cottage in the country, Zhang saw a young tiger in his yard three days in a row. It was said that it was lucky for a young child to see a tiger in that way, and luck was certainly something that Zhang needed to help him survive the hardships of the Communist takeover and the Cultural Revolution. He managed not only to survive, but also to use and develop his artistic talent and eventually escape to Montreal with his family. A long note on the history and politics of China is included.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-In a matter-of-fact narrative, Song Nan Zhang traces his life in China, describing an idyllic childhood after World War II; his youthful idealism during the ``Great Leap Forward,'' which entailed years of hard work under harsh conditions; and the even more horrible Cultural Revolution. The writing is vivid, personal, yet oddly detached. More emotion comes from the illustrations, and it is easy to see why Zhang's skill as an artist was valued in China in all but the ``crazy ten years.'' Although they depict a life and an era not known or understood by many Americans, the paintings have an odd familiarity, as if Norman Rockwell had grown up in China between 1939 and 1989. In Canada during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, Zhang anxiously watches television for news of his homeland. He is given a special permit to stay, and after four tense months his wife and sons are allowed to join him. Readers do not know what the future holds for his brothers and sisters, or for China itself, but Zhang has survived tumultuous times and remains hopeful in spirit. His descriptions of life in China, in both prose and paintings, along with a few concise pages of historical background, offer an excellent introduction to the modern history of a complex country.-Carla Kozak, San Francisco Public Library
Song Nan Zhang was born in Shanghai. He received a Masters degree from the Beijing Central Institute of Fine Arts, and his paintings have been exhibited in galleries around the world. Song Nan Zhang lives in Montreal. His son, Hao Yu, was born in Beijing and arrived in Montreal with his parents in 1990. He has a journalism degree from Concordia University and has written for the Montreal Gazette. He now lives in London, England, and works for the BBC.