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Posts Tagged ‘Red Scarf Girl’

ny name is number 4Mountain Girl, River GirlTing-Xing Ye left China in 1987 for Canada after years of hardship, including a period in a Chinese work camp as a teenager – an experience chronicled in her biographical memoir, My Name is Number Four: A True Story of the Cultural Revolution.

Since immigrating to Canada, Ye has written novels for children, adults and teens including the children’s books: Share the SkyThree Monks, No Water, Weighing the Elephant and a memoir for adults, A Leaf in the Bitter Wind (originally published in 1998 and later abridged for a YA audience as My Name is…).

Ye’s books have been lauded in Canada and the United States for their rich description of Chinese culture, as well as their detailed (and personal) depictions of events like the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

CM Magazine (Canadian Review of Materials) notes of My Name is… that, “teachers will find the book useful as it provides students with a personal perspective from someone who has lived through the Cultural Revolution….” The CM review further adds that, “…Ye’s work portrays the personal and collective tragedy of a misguided revolution and its detrimental effects on family, friendship, and Chinese society as a whole.” Of Mountain Girl River Girl – a fictional account that follows two teen migratory factory workers – Quill and Quire writes that, “this is a well-written and thought-provoking tale that refuses pat resolutions or Hollywood endings. The girls’ futures remain bleak at best, and audiences will learn a lot from this sobering novel….”

What is interesting is how well these books fit into the trope of ‘Chinese’ YA literature that has recently made its way onto library and school shelves and includes similar novels like: Socialism is Great’: A Worker’s Memoir of the New China about author Lijia Zhang’s experiences as teen factory worker in a missile production plant in China; Red Scarf Girl by Ji-Li Jiang, another memoir about life as a teen during the Cultural Revolution; or Ye’s own novel for young adults, Throwaway Daughter, written with her husband, acclaimed Canadian author, William Bell, about the impact of China’s one child policy on the female infant abandonment and subsequent foreign adoption of these ‘throwaway daughters.’

These novels, while excellent first hand accounts of life in China during the Cultural Revolution, do enforce a particular view of China under communism prevalent in the West. Furthermore, as ‘international YA’ it should be noted that all of these books were originally published in North America by authors who have since become US or Canadian citizens (or ‘category #1’ as I discussed in an earlier post) – they are not Chinese-published accounts.

Why I note this is that there are very few Chinese produced books in libraries or on award winning YA lists. The ALA Batchedler Award, for example, which recognizes ‘the best’ in translation young adult book each year, has never nominated or awarded this accolade to a book originally published in China and its surrounding regions, including Hong Kong or Taiwan – and the Batchelders have been around since 1968.

Yet, I do think that it is important to note this disparity between Western-produced ‘Chinese’ books and those actually being produced in China, Hong Kong or Taiwan to be aware of the ‘gaps’ in our collections, and also certain themes, market influences, and most importantly, the issue of audience, in category #1 international YA.

As noted in a review of Valerie Zenatti’s When I was a Soldier, a memoir detailing Zenatti’s time as a teen soldier in the Israeli Army, Zenatti’s book is not written for a Israeli audience. For while Zenatti did spend her teens in Israel and did serve in the army, she was born and raised in France, and after her army service returned to Paris where her published her memoir, written in French and for a French audience. Similarly, Ye’s novels, though based on her childhood and subsequent experiences in China, are written for a North American audience – not a Chinese one, and this is something we need to remember when collecting. That while these books are about and set someplace other than North America, they are, in many ways, ‘North American’ books as they reflect market and publishing trends here, but also, and importantly, in that they are written for Canadian and US audiences.

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