Library JournalIn piecing together her family's history, Pan (author of five other books on China) provides here much-needed knowledge about Chinese social conditions between 1930 and 1980. She describes prerevolutionary Shanghai as a city in which people had the ``freedom to press pleasure to excess.'' Her grandmother committed suicide to escape the misery caused by the knowledge of her husband's infidelity; her grandfather and paternal aunt eventually were destroyed by their opium addiction. With the dawning of the Communist era, every attempt was made to squeeze out potential dissent with mass executions and imprisonment. While Pan points out that her version of conditions in China is a mixture of probable truths, mostly from a family retainer who was imprisoned by the Communists for 24 years, and distorted family memories, two important themes emerge. First, Chinese people define the past as part of their present and, second, ``fate'' is a significant force even for the most rational and adaptable of individuals. Highly recommended.-- Peggy Spitzer Christoff, Oak Park, Ill.
Mary Ellen SullivanHere is a stunning story that is as compelling as fiction and as warm and jolting as a relative's reminiscences of family history. Masterfully crafted, "Tracing It Home" zigzags across its author's familial past, ranging from the days of her powerful and wealthy grandfather in prerevolutionary Shanghai through her father's exile in Hong Kong and Malaysia to Pan's own years of weaving together the lives and stories of these men and their wives, concubines, sisters, servants, and sons. Pan creates a tapestry of twentieth-century Chinese life that shows the clash of old and new ways, the effects of Communism, the brutality of the cultural revolution, and the determination of some extraordinary people. Her vivid portrait of decadent, corrupt Shanghai during the Japanese occupation is particularly notable, playing like a cross between "film noir" and a Russian novel. Pan is patently a natural storyteller with quite a tale to tell.
Kirkus ReviewsSplendid, multifaceted recounting of the Shanghai-born author's search for her roots. Pan (Sons of the Yellow Emperor, 1990) combines history, social anthropology, and biography into a savory stir-fry that leaves us hungering for more. The death of Pan's father provided impetus for the author's search. So Chinese was their relationship that Pan could never ask him the myriad questions she had concerning their familyeven though the two, isolated in a remote Canadian cabin, shared much of what was to be her father's last winter. Returning to Shanghai after his death, Pan rediscovered the long-lost family retainer, Hanzewho retained his nearly photographic memory despite having suffered 24 years in China's labor camps. As she made several trips to visit cemeteries, former family homes, buildings, and long-lost relatives, the years fell away for Pan, revealing family secrets, correcting misconceptions. Her grandfather was not a stevedore but a common coolie who became a labor contractor, then a very successful building contractor. Pan's parents, socialites of 30's and 40's Shanghai, resided in mansions, rode about in a long, gleaming Packardhe in a serge suit, she in fursand danced to Harry James and Benny Goodman. Philandering came with the culture: wealth begot mistresses. Having married for love, Pan's unhappy grandmother committed suicide and was replaced by a mistress, "Madame," who ruled with an iron fist and usurped her stepson's inheritance. Then the Communists confiscated all, branding Grandfather a traitor and leaving Madame to die an impoverished alcoholic. Later on, history repeated itself and Pan's brother lost much of his birthright to his ownfather's mistress. Pan explores all of this thoroughly, even trekking beyond the Gobi Desert to see where Hanze was enslaved. The finest sort of historical and social writing: living, unpretentious, and moving, but with no recrimination or garment- rending.
- Kodansha International
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- 5.84(w) x 8.54(h) x 0.92(d)
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