Thursday, November 20, 2008

Good reads

We just got back from another fabulous vacation to Mexico where once again, my main activity was lounging on the beach with a good book and a lot of sunblock. On this trip I read almost 3 books, I haven't quite finished the last book. I love reading, but in regular life I find it hard to have the time to read a book and absorb the words I am reading. So that is what vacations are for!

On this trip, I borrowed the novel "Beijing Coma" by Ma Jian from the library. I am always drawn to Chinese writers and when I read the jacket, I immediately wanted to read the entire book. Beijing Coma's protagonist is Dai Wei, a student who was shot in the Tianamen Square protests and who subsequently fell into a coma. While in the coma, he can hear and smell what is going around him, although he can't see, move, or respond in any way, although his body is surprisingly "alert". The book revolves around his memories of the weeks leading up to the massacre and alternates between those memories and what is happening presently around him.

I had never read a book about what happened in the weeks leading up to June 4, 1989, so this was quite an eye opener (although it is fiction, the author bases his characters on real people and real stories.) In 1989, I was only 10, and my dad was quite ill, so I didn't understand what was going on China, except that it was bad. I have read that unfortunately, since China has worked so hard to propagate its own version of what happened (nothing! nothing happened!), young people in China today are barely aware of the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre. The iconic image of the "Tank Man" is not even recognized among Beijing University students. In the new world of China embracing newfound wealth, maybe this isn't surprising, just saddening. It makes me wonder whether we in the western world even realize the extent of what happened, and whether we turn a blind eye to how China censors the truth. Maybe we turn a blind eye too often, preferring the glamourized images of China while citizens lose their homes in favour of big development, choosing to buy cheaply made, potentially dangerous items made in China to save ourselves money.

Beijing Coma struck me because it presented the possibility, many possibilities, you might say, that things could have turned out differently in June 1989. If only this happened, if only that person made this decision ... thousands more would be alive today. An entire nation could have risen up against an oppressive regime. And at the same time, the book illustrated how even great intentions can go horribly out of control. I don't really know how to express how I felt about the book, but maybe you can all have a read for yourselves.

1 comment:

Tree said...

(Hi Snerk. Originally, I wrote a different comment on your blog, but it became too saturated with political resentment and hatred, so I revamped my comment.)
Although I was also a young girl at the time of the event, I remembered following it very closely with the help of my parents. I read many articles and non-fiction, as well as fiction, regarding this subject matter. One novel I read is called "Forbidden City" by William Bell. It's about a boy and his father, who is a journalistic photographer, who traveled to China just at the onset of the protests. The book is banned in China because of its references to the massacre, but it's easy to read (although not easy to stomach) if you want to know more details about the events leading up to the main massacre.
BTW, the "tank man" was a student who had no prior intent to protest, but was actually on his way home from the grocery store when he saw the mass of students starving themselves and then he had the urge to support his fellow classmates. Fortunately, he was not killed.