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In his epic novel, originally published in 1987, Zhang explores China's upheaval in the decades after the creation of the People's Republic in 1949. At the heart of the story are the three major families in the small town of Wali. The Sui family was among the wealthiest until political change left them with little more than grief and anger. The Zhao clan, on the other hand, rose to power during the revolution's violence, some of which the clan helped direct at the Suis. The Li clan, known for eccentricities, pushed the town toward industrialization. As the nonlinear narrative spirals backwards and forwards through time, the disturbing details of Wali's history are unearthed, including graphic descriptions of the cruel punishments meted out in the name of reform (and revenge). In Zhang's capable hands, Wali becomes a microcosm of the turmoil China underwent during the pivotal political and cultural moments of the 20th century. Written two years before the Tiananmen Square protests, this multilayered historical tale of remembrance, accountability and the role stories play in people's lives is a powerful one. (Aug.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.