Picture book and cookbook author Compestine (The Real Story of Stone Soup) turns to 1972 China as the setting for her first YA novel. Eight-year-old Ling, the spunky daughter of two doctors, lives in Wuhan, China; dreamy and idealistic, she often describes her world in metaphor (about her neighbor, Ling notes, "Mrs. Wong was fragrant and warm like a red peony, which always welcomed visitors"). But the lives of Ling and her family are disrupted when Comrade Li, an officer of the Communist Party, moves into their apartment. Difficulties mount as friends and neighbors disappear, Ling's father is arrested and she endures vicious tormenting at school because of her "bourgeois" background ("At times I wished my family was poor and my parents worked on a vegetable farm... so I could have friends. But if my parents worked on a farm, who would treat their patients?"). Although her father has been jailed, her family starved and their books burned, Ling fights to keep her long hair, a symbol of dignity and individualism to her, though her classmates see it as emblematic of Ling's "privilege." Ling survives on wit, hope and courage until the death of Chairman Mao, after which she and her mother have a joyful reunion with Ling's father. Readers should remain rapt by Compestine's storytelling throughout this gripping account of life during China's Cultural Revolution. Ages 10-up. (Aug.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Revolution Is Not a Dinner Partyby Ying Chang Compestine
Nine-year-old Ling is very comfortable in her life; her parents are both dedicated surgeons in the best hospital in Wuhan. But when Comrade Li, one of Mao’s political officers, moves into a room in their apartment, Ling begins to witness the gradual disintegration of her world. In an atmosphere of increasing mistrust, Ling fears for the safety of her neighbors and,… See more details below
Nine-year-old Ling is very comfortable in her life; her parents are both dedicated surgeons in the best hospital in Wuhan. But when Comrade Li, one of Mao’s political officers, moves into a room in their apartment, Ling begins to witness the gradual disintegration of her world. In an atmosphere of increasing mistrust, Ling fears for the safety of her neighbors and, soon, for herself and family. Over the course of four years, Ling manages to grow and blossom, even as she suffers more horrors than many people face in a lifetime.
Drawing from her childhood experience, Ying Chang Compestine brings hope and humor to this compelling story for all ages about a girl fighting to survive during the Cultural Revolution in China.
Gr 5 Up -Ling, the daughter of two doctors, has a comfortable life in Wuhan, China. She enjoys her English lessons with her father and the walks they take along the river. Her life changes dramatically when Comrade Li, one of Maoa€™s political officers, moves into her familya€™s apartment in this coming-of-age novel (Holt, 2007) by Ying Chang Compestine. Ling watches helplessly as family friends are taken away by the military. Her father burns old photos and English language books, hoping to protect his family. Each family member keeps up appearances of being a Mao supporter while quietly helping others maintain a reasonable quality of life. Ling matures far beyond her 13 years as she copes with her fathera€™s eventual imprisonment and the constant torment by classmates who have joined the Red Guard. Narrator Jodi Long skillfully moves from naïve Ling who never quite accepts the hardships in her life to belligerent and officious Comrade Li who seems to find pleasure in hurting others. Long easily conveys Linga€™s confusion and bewilderment through her tone and pacing, and powerfully communicates Linga€™s inner strength and determination that life will improve some day. This semi-autobiographical novel comes alive with the authora€™s rich descriptions of the sights and smells of China at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution.-Wendy Woodfill, Hennepin County Library, Minnetonka, MN
“* Readers should remain rapt by Compestine's storytelling throughout this gripping account of life during China's Cultural Revolution.” Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“Laced in all the right places with humor, fury, fear, resolve and eventual relief, her childlike voice is carefully maintained over the sweep of four years--candid and credible, naive and nuanced.” San Francisco Chronicle
“This child's-eye view of the Chinese Cultural Revolution is ultimately a tale of survival; lyrical yet gripping, accessible and memorable, it's based on the author's experiences. Certain to inspire discussion about freedom and justice.” Kirkus Reviews
“Authentic. . . . This semi-autobiographical novel comes alive with the author's rich descriptions of the sights and smells of China at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution.” School Library Journal
“In clipped lyrical sentences, Compestine's first-person narrative sets a naïve child's struggle to survive against betrayal and courage in one neighborhood and also the political panorama of spies and slogans.” Booklist
“Compestine does a good job giving young YA readers a realistic picture of what that period of history meant to individuals caught in the political nightmare. Certainly those with a Chinese heritage will find the story important to understand their own family history.” KLIATT
“Beautifully descriptive phrases allow this autobiographical fiction to come alive with the colors of the clothing that are lovingly sewn for Ling, the aromatic preparations of the food that is cooked, and the genuine appreciation of school, work, and valued neighbors. . . . The simple narrative is [refreshing] . . . in its youthful disbelief of the hardships that have befallen them in a changing political situation.” Voice of Youth Advocates
Read an Excerpt
Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party
By Ying Chang Compestine
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2007 Ying Chang Compestine
All rights reserved.
The summer of 1972, before I turned nine, danger began knocking on doors all over China.
My parents worked as doctors in City Hospital Number 4. It was the best hospital in Wuhan, a big city in central China. My father was a surgeon. My mother, a traditional doctor of Chinese medicine, treated patients with herbs and acupuncture needles. When my doll got sick, I treated her with candies.
We lived in a three-story brick building in the hospital compound, near the Yangtze River — the longest river in China. All year round, the river and railroad brought us sweet dates and tea from the East, beautiful silk and candies from the West, tropical fruit from the South, and roasted duck from Beijing, in the North. Father often told me, "Our city is like a human heart — all the body's blood travels through it."
One evening, like many others, the white lace curtains on our open windows danced on the breeze from the courtyard. The sweet smell of roses and the familiar aromas of garlic, ginger, and sesame oil filled our spacious second-floor apartment. We sat around our square table, eating dinner in the living room with its wide picture window that faced the courtyard.
The kitchen and bedrooms were across from the living room. All the rooms on that side had large windows overlooking the rose garden and the walls of the hospital compound.
Mother set a small blue bowl and matching soup-spoon in front of me. "Ling, your hair is as dry as dead grass. Eat your soup." It was filled with tofu, spinach, and seaweed. I didn't want it, but I knew better than to say so. I picked up a bit of tofu, hoping that would be enough. I had already stuffed myself on my favorites: pan-fried dumplings, egg-fried rice, and steamed fish with Mother's tasty black bean sauce. I had even tasted some of the orange sesame chicken, a special treat for Father. Today, though, he ate only two pieces, leaving most of the chicken in its serving bowl.
"Hurry, Ling!" Mother said sharply. She was clearing away plates and would want my bowl soon — but empty. With my eyes, I asked Father if I really had to eat the awful brown soup.
He smiled the way he always did. Little wrinkles formed at the corners of his eyes. "It's hot today. You need the liquid and sodium. At least drink the broth."
Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes and slurped down the broth. Blocking the chunks with my teeth, I made sure none of the slippery seaweed or spinach got in my mouth.
Mother took the dirty chopsticks and teacups into the kitchen.
Scooping up the seaweed and spinach in my spoon, I quickly raised it to Father's mouth. His eyebrows lifted. Then his face relaxed.
"Open please, Daddy!" I whispered.
Father opened up and the yucky greens disappeared. He smacked his lips.
"Love you, Daddy!" I whispered. With two hands, I carried my bowl to the kitchen.
I was glad Father was home for dinner. When he was around he always saved me from Mother's strange food. On nights when Father performed surgery at the hospital, I had to eat everything Mother thought was good for me: jellyfish would get rid of my freckles; fish tails would help me put on weight; pig's liver would make me smarter; bitter tea would give me smooth skin. All of it tasted horrible. I once told Mother that if we had a dog, even the dog would not eat pig's liver. She rapped my head with her chopsticks and put a second piece in my bowl.
When I returned to the living room, Father still sat at the dinner table, holding a blue porcelain teacup in his hands. The ceiling fan spun slowly above him. His eyes were fixed on the teacup, as if he were studying it.
I didn't like to see him this way. For months Father had been drifting off in thoughts, even in the middle of our English lessons. Wanting to cheer him up, I tiptoed behind him to the bamboo bookshelf that stood next to the wide, brick fireplace. I reached up to the top and took down a yellow magazine with a picture of a human brain on the cover. It had arrived from America last week.
I walked past the fireplace and climbed up onto Father's black chair. It felt wonderful to stretch my sweaty legs across the soft, cool leather.
"Daddy, it's time for ponytails!"
He turned to me and smiled. After setting the teacup beside the matching dishes, he stood and slid his chair under the table, as Mother wanted us to do.
"Read this." I hugged my legs and made room for him.
Father took the magazine and sat beside me. I shifted onto the wide padded armrest and curled up like a little cat. Carefully, I drew together a tuft of his hair, twisted it into a ponytail, and secured it with a red elastic band from my wrist. Father sat still with a grin.
Two years ago, when I turned seven, Mother stopped braiding my hair. She told me I was old enough to do it myself. But I couldn't get it right. My thick, long hair tangled. It was difficult to divide it into three equal parts as my arms grew tired from reaching back. I begged Mother to braid it for me, but she refused, so I wore loose and floppy braids for weeks. Then I came up with the idea of practicing on Father. His straight hair was much shorter than mine, too short for braids. But I could put ponytails in the front, where it was longest, and practice fastening bands. I worried about hurting him by pulling too hard, but he never complained and always sat still. Though I had mastered ponytails last year, Father still let me practice on him in the evenings when he was home for dinner.
Through the open windows, the warm breeze carried in the voice of a neighbor as she rehearsed a new revolutionary song.
Dear Chairman Mao,
Great leader of our country,
The sun in our heart,
You are more dear than our mother and fa-a-a-ther
She couldn't reach the high note on "father" so she kept trying, "faa-ther ... fa-a-ther," over and over like a broken record.
How could anyone be more dear than my father? Would Chairman Mao let me put ponytails on him? I started to giggle when I pictured ponytails wrapped with red and yellow elastic bands standing on Chairman Mao's square head.
I secured the first band over Father's slippery hair. Would my singing neighbor feel as happy as I was when she could finally reach the high note? I wished she would get there soon — or sing a different song.
Rubbing my nose against the ponytail, I took a deep breath. It smelled of antiseptics, like the hospital. The distinct smell always made him easy to find when we played hide-and-seek.
A sharp crash from our kitchen startled me. The sound of running water continued, but the scraping of a spatula against a wok stopped. My heart sank. Mother had broken another bowl, the second this week. I could picture her breathing deeply and pursing her lips as she held back her anger. Her bad moods always made me nervous. She criticized me more when things went wrong. I was no longer cooled by the chair, and my sleeveless white cotton blouse clung to my sweaty back. Father said that hot weather made everyone short-tempered. But Mother had been like this since last winter.
Father stopped reading. He gently patted my shoulder. As if he knew how I felt, he reached over to the large rectangular radio sitting on the round end table. Instantly, American folk songs filled our apartment. Wiggling to the beat, I felt cheerful again. It must have been six-thirty. That's when Voice of America played a half hour of music between English-language newscasts.
I slipped a pink elastic band off my wrist and wrapped it around Father's second ponytail. He now looked like a clown in the circus.
"Daddy, I'll be nice. I'll only put in two today."
"Don't let me forget about them." Father glanced at his watch. "I have to operate on a patient in two hours, and I don't want to wear ponytails to the hospital again." He burst out laughing. The sound was deep and loud. I joined in his laughter.
"Of course, Daddy." I looked right into his loving eyes. I didn't understand why some children stared at their shoes when talking to their fathers.
Father started my English lessons when I was seven. I hated remembering all the rules of English, such as the s, es, and ies. Yet I had fun pronouncing English words. They sounded like the frogs singing in the field behind the hospital. During my lessons, Father told me stories about America that he had learned from his American teacher. And he taught me English songs and new words and — best of all — I had Father's full attention, with few interruptions from Mother.
We often started our lesson with the picture in the heavy gold frame on the mantel.
We walked to the fireplace. I stood on my tiptoes and reached for the picture. "I'll dust it today, Daddy."
Father took it down and handed it to me.
I slowly ran a blue silk handkerchief over the glass. Inside was a photograph of a long orange bridge with clouds wrapped around it. I dreamed of flying among those clouds.
"Daddy, why are there so many wires on top of the bridge?"
"It helps strengthen the bridge." He took the picture and put it back in the center of the mantel. Picking up the medical journal from the floor under his leather chair, he sat back down.
I climbed in beside him. "It's called — I know, I know — it's called 'sus-pen-sion.'" After carefully saying the difficult English word, I bounced.
"Careful! You'll fall." Father took hold of my arms.
"But you could always stitch me back up, right?" I winked at Father.
Father smiled. "Remember the name of the bridge?"
"Of course! It's called the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, America." I proudly said all this English in a single breath.
"Very good!" Father patted my shoulder.
I had heard the story many times. Dr. Smith gave Father the picture as a farewell present before going back to San Francisco. He had invited Father to go to work in a hospital near the Golden Gate Bridge. But Father decided to stay to help build the new China.
Our entire building used to be Dr. Smith's home. What was now our apartment had been his study and living room. It was here Dr. Smith taught Father and other doctors Western medicine and told them stories about his hometown near the Golden Gate Bridge. Father liked to share those happy times by telling the stories again and again.
"Daddy, I know why you put the picture in a thick golden frame. Because the bridge is heavy!" I burst into laughter.
Father laughed, too.
"Ling," Mother yelled from the kitchen. "How many times do I have to tell you? Don't laugh like that!" Plates clattered in disapproval.
Father covered his mouth with his right hand.
I covered mine quickly, the way Mother had taught me, even though I was no longer laughing. I didn't understand why Father liked my laugh but Mother didn't.
She disapproved of me much of the time. I laughed too loud and forgot to cover my mouth, rudely showing my teeth. I forgot to cross my legs and tuck in my skirt when I sat down. I talked too much. I ate too fast. My feet were too big, and my hair was too dry.
Maybe I could have a good laugh without showing my teeth. But how could I change the size of my feet, which were almost as big as hers? And what could I do about my dry, tangled hair? I ate fast because I loved to eat. If I took small bites like Mother, it would take all night for me to finish dinner. Or I would be hungry all the time. I wished she loved me the way I was, like Father did.
I believed Mother was unhappy with me because she had never wanted to have a daughter. She told our neighbor Mrs. Wong if she were younger she would try to have a son.
But Father loved me. I was his special girl.
Mother walked into the living room with a bamboo tray. I glanced at her as she moved closer to the dinner table. Her white lace apron covered her slender waist and part of her black silk dress. As always, her silky black hair was neatly pinned back, with every hair in place. Her pearl necklace shone in the last bit of summer sunlight coming through the windows. I could smell her jasmine perfume from across the room. She was more beautiful than the lady on the jars of powdered milk sent to us by Father's friends in America. How could I ever be as beautiful and perfect as she was?
Mother narrowed her eyes as she looked at me. "Ling, you are too old to play with your father's hair. Take the ponytails out right after your lesson."
My stomach tightened. It was Father's hair, and he hadn't told me I was too old.
Mother set the blue rice bowls covered with small lotus flowers on the tray, one at a time. I still remembered how hard she scolded me when I stacked the bowls together.
How could I learn every one of Mother's rules so I wouldn't upset her?
As soon as Mother left the room, Father patted my back. He whispered, "Your mother has a lot on her mind these days. Be patient with her. Let's start our new words for today."
I wanted to ask Father what was on Mother's mind. Was it because she wanted a boy? But I was afraid she would hear my questions from the kitchen.
I worked hard to pronounce new English words after Father. "Pick, pike, big, beg, dig." I imagined father and daughter frogs singing in a pond.
"Fountain, mountain ..."
Looking up at him, I burst out laughing again. I had forgotten about his ponytails.CHAPTER 2
Waste Is a Great Crime
Summer ended with three weeks of nonstop rain. Everything smelled of mold. When I walked through the muddy streets, I tried not to step on the political posters the rain had washed off the walls. I hated getting my hands dirty peeling the grimy paper off my shoes.
Mother replaced the bamboo mat on my bed with cotton bedding.
On a gray fall afternoon, a strange man and woman came to our apartment while Father was at work. Mother introduced the woman as the Communist Party secretary for the city and the man as Comrade Li.
The woman had short legs and long arms. Her baggy blue pants were rolled up above her brown rubber boots. She and Comrade Li did not take off their shoes and walked around our apartment leaving mud stains all over the floor.
When they crossed the living room to the fireplace, the Secretary Lady tapped her broken fingernail against our blue flower vase on the mantel. "Did this come from overseas?" she asked in a nasal voice.
Without waiting for Mother's answer, she turned and went into my parents' bedroom. Comrade Li followed. His blue army pants hung on him like flat balloons. There she opened the wardrobe and rubbed the fabric of Mother's dresses between her thick fingers.
Leaving the wardrobe open, they walked into my room. She brushed her hand over the yellow silk comforter on my bed. Her calluses caught at the pink embroidered peonies.
I stayed close to Mother as she followed behind them. She wore the smile she gave only to visitors, but she kept rubbing the third button on her white shirt, something she did when she was nervous.
As the Secretary Lady walked toward the kitchen, she waved at Comrade Li. "Come here. Don't let me do all the work."
Once in the kitchen, Comrade Li used a chopstick to poke and stir inside our rice jar. In Father's study, he picked up Father's ivory cigarette holder from the bookcase and squeezed it as if he expected a cigarette to pop out. Maybe he had never seen one before. It was a special gift to Father from Dr. Smith in America.
The Secretary Lady turned several of Father's books upside down and shook them. Notes and bookmarks fell to the floor like dead leaves. She pointed at them. "Take those with us," she ordered.
Comrade Li bent down and scooped up the little pieces of paper, stuffing them into the big pockets of his army jacket.
The notes were written in English. I wasn't sure why she wanted them. Father had spent many hours reading those books and taking notes. I bet he wouldn't be happy if he saw Comrade Li crumpling them up like that.
"Check all the shoes," said the Secretary Lady.
At the entryway, Comrade Li picked up Father's brown leather shoes from the rack. He tapped the heels with his knuckles and peeked inside before putting them back. What could he be looking for?
As soon as they left, Mother locked the door and threw all the clothes they had touched in a washbasin, even her silk robe. I asked if it was because they had dirty hands. She hissed and said, "No questions now!"
If Mother didn't want them to touch our things, why didn't she stop them?
That weekend Father moved the furniture and books out of the study. He jammed the books into the bookcases around the fireplace. Mother told me Comrade Li was going to live in Father's study.
As Father nailed shut the door between his study and our living room, I asked, "Who is Comrade Li? Why are you letting him move in?"
With a serious look on his face, Father continued pounding at a long nail. "He is the new political officer for the hospital, and he needs a place to stay."
"What does a political officer do?" I asked.
"He teaches Chairman Mao's ideas. Now let me finish what I'm doing." Looking stern, he screwed a brass latch onto the upper half of the study door. I knew better than to ask more questions.
So Comrade Li was a teacher? Would Father have to take lessons from him? But how could anyone be smarter than Father?
Excerpted from Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine. Copyright © 2007 Ying Chang Compestine. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Ying Chang Compestine grew up in China and now lives in California with her husband and son. She is the author of the young adult story collection A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts, as well as several picture books for children and cookbooks for adults.
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This was interesting, very easy to follow, and has some emotional events that take place. It is interesting to see how strong Ling is in the situations that she encounters. A quick read and well worth it.
After studying China's modern history in political terms, this story was captivating as it brought me more understanding of the people's livelihood at the time and how it was affected. The novel was written in a way that the emotions of the characters could be felt. Stories like this help me learn more about the time period in a compelling way, especially when they are written as good as this.
This was a very gripping read from a time period which I was just learning about, the Cultural Revolution. This book was definatly an eye opener! I was caught up in everything and I loved it. What she had to go though is unimaginable to a girl today. A definate read.
I first read it in real life and finished it and i have to have it here to read it over and over again because its my fav book of all time and i just love it so much
"Certain to inspire discussion about freedom and justice." Yes, as for those beautiful pastries and flower stitched clothes: Which peasant under feudal china could afford anything else except mudpies and the little rice that the land owning lords left for them? The Chinese revolution and subsequent cultural revolution is one of the most amazing developments in human history. The first time that the majority of working people rose up and attacked all things contrary to their class interest, symbolic of their thousands of years of silent indignation and subordination to kings, royals, monarchs, masters and capitalists. It is too bad that human society developed into classes as a result of undereducation and animal instincts, but at the rare revolutionary moments of history when the systemically suppressed masses rise up and demanding before their bourgeois rights of freedom of criticism and freedom to exploit, the right to self-determination of labor, production of all working people and the freedom to partake in society and its riches, created by themselves.
I absolutely love this book!!! It is descriptive and fun to read for everyone- even for those who hate reading! I could not put this book down and forgot that I had to read it for an AP History class! The voice the main character has is aw-striking and amazing. This story will touch the hearts of all those who read it!!!
I thought this novel, despite its size, was a fabulous read. It shows the view of a young girl(Ling) in the time of the Chinese Revolution. Ling is the daughter of two doctors. When Mao Tse Tung enters Ling's life everything she loves begins to go away. When they take away her father Ling is brave and starts standing up for what she believes is right. Although I recommend this book to anyone who wants to read it, i especially recommend it to 11-13 year olds or people who are interested in the Chinese Revolution.
This is a gripping tale of an 8-year-old girl¿s experience during China¿s Cultural Revolution. With this book set in the 1970¿s, both of Ling¿s parents are doctors and she has a wonderful life style. When Comrade Li moves into the building and occupies part of Ling¿s apartment, her world is turned upside down. The Red Guard invades her life and the lives of innocent people around her, taking away all types of personal and intellectual freedoms. Ling also has a very frustrating experience in her school life because of the Mao regime. Students who read this story will develop a better understanding of communist China and a person¿s will to survive.
I brought my friends! *Walks in with Barack Obama, Macklemore, Ceelo Greene, Adam Sandler, Blake Shelton, Usher, Shakira, Will.i.am, Jimmie Johnson, Pit Bull, Charlie Sheen, Chevy Chase, Bruno Mars, Geddy Lee, and the ghosts of Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash, Michael Jackson, George Washington, Abe Lincoln and J. Edgar Hoover. Along with my rot weiler, Sanchez. We all set down and set down talking. Ozzy and Cheron Osborne walk in and set down with us.* OZZY: Sorry we're late, I couldn't find my wallet. CHERON: I told you to Check in the car! And where was it? OZZY: ...In the car. Cheron just shut up! We came to the dinner request of Jordan and we're gonna have dinner! ME: *Fist bumps Ozzy.* It's cool, bro!