"The weakest ink is better than the strongest memory." - Chinese proverb
I have all of Kay Bratt's books downloaded on my Kindle. I will admit that I was initially seduced by the beautiful covers. I had little knowledge of the stories waiting to be told beyond such beauty. I chose to begin with the prequel, The Palest Ink. I'm not sure if beginning with this book will give too much of the story away or not. However, I'm glad I chose to start here because now I have a better understanding of the times, the hardships, and the daily struggles of the Chinese people that endured the ten year Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao, and Mao Thought. I'm ashamed to say that I knew very little about the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, initiated by Mao in 1966, until his death in 1976. During this time, Mao and the Red Guard sought to remove counter revolutionary elements of Chinese society by driving out imperialism. Mao claimed to stand for the poor peasants and farmers. Mao Thought turned class against class. Family members turned on loved ones. Religious and traditional cultural icons were destroyed. Ancient Chinese books and relics were burned. Families were seperated and sent to communes for re-education. Schools and universities were closed and students turned on their once-respected educators and professors. Innocent people were accused of the smallest crimes, denounced as enemies, and shamed in front of crowds. Chairman Mao Zedong is believed to be responsible for an estimated 40 to 70 million deaths through forced labor, starvation, and executions. Staggering.
"...people are giving each other up. Wives are going against husbands, children against parents, you wouldn't believe how many relatives are renouncing each other, claiming to cut all ties in order to not be touched by the blemishes their family members have against them. Pointing fingers and calling each other reactionaries." -- Wren, The Palest Ink
Kay Bratt has written a powerful story that may not be true but could easily be imagined. Bratt did base some details on actual stories and photographs she had heard and seen. Unlike her main characters, Benfu and Pony Boy, Bratt succeeds in telling a powerful story of struggle, survival, loyalty, and heartbreaking loss. Bratt creates characters that are likable and easy to root for. Benfu represents the wealthier, more respectable family, trying desperately to adhere to family traditions. Pony Boy graciously stands for honor, placing family and love before his own needs. Both are young boys, standing on the edge of adulthood when the story begins. Together, the boys attempt to shed light on the wrongs they witness during Mao's reign by secretly publishing a newsletter. By the last chapter, it is painfully clear that difficult life lessons have turned Pony Boy and Benfu into respectable grown men, comrades forever. While their tale of friendship is not always happy or easy to tell, it is one I absolutely fell in love with. Easily one of the best books I've read all year. That said, if you're looking for a happily ever after this is not the book for you. But, if you're seeking a book that tells a great story, I would highly advise picking this one up. Poignant. As for myself, I'm going to devour the rest of this book series, starting with The Scavenger's Daughter.
*Thanks extended to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for sharing this wonderful egalley with me in exchange for review