Review of Anhua Gao’s To the Edge of the Sky, followed by an interview with the author

Anhua Gao dreams of visiting England, the edge of the sky, since her mother, a respected and beloved Communist party leader, points it out to her on a map in 1959, when she and the New China both turn ten.  Her dream confuses her, however, since she’s taught to beware of the West’s “bullets coated with sugar,” its bourgeois ways that tempt youth away from revolutionary ideals.  Like her mother and father, both Party officials, she loves British literature (despite Communist rules, her father is buried in a Western suit) and finds it hard to reconcile the life described in her books with the picture Mao paints of the West, where capitalist bullies treat workers like dogs.  She’s taught life in China is the best in all the world.

Anhua Gao’s life, as she narrates it, is a prism of Chinese Communist contradictions.  Her story is not anti-Communist nor anti-Chinese, rather, a straightforward, chronological account of her history set in a larger context.  Her parents model the ideals of Communism — hard work, education, equality and honor among them — but as she grows older, she watches these ideals crushed beneath Mao’s rigid regime.  His Great Leap Forward results in famine.  Then, for the sake of “openness,” he asks citizens to speak out, only to root out dissidents.  When he dies, his wife begins the 5.16 Campaign to dig out more counter revolutionary elements.  What begins as a class struggle becomes class elimination, with no room for anyone other than the “winning” side.

Despite her hard work, good marks in school and loyalty to China, Anhua Gao finally falls prey to the persecution.  She watches many family members and friends betrayed first.  One injustice piled on another, she is all the more determined to use her English skills and get to Britain at any cost.  Hers is not simply an escape story;  this is also the tale of finding friendship and dedication, solidarity and hope that can’t be destroyed no matter the political circumstances.  author blog


1.  Did you talk about your book with friends and family before writing?
Before I wrote the book, I did not share my writings with friends and family. I was inspired by Jung Chang — author of Wild Swans to write my life story.
2. Have you been back to China since moving?  What’s changed?
I go back to China almost every year. Economically China has made big progress and the cities all look very modern. But politically not much change: China is still a Maoist country, the Party has strong controle of people’s thoughts, writings and talks, major international websites such as facebook, twitter, google, yahoo etc. are blocked from Chinese people so that the Chinese people do not know what is really happening in the outside world. The media is strict to the Party line, people’s right is very low.
3. Are you still writing?
Yes, I am still writing and have finished two more books, but not yet published. I have my own blog in China’s sina website with a high rating of visiting number of the people over 2.4 million.  I have written over 50 articles and put them into my blog.
4. I enjoyed your linear, straightforward style – who are your influences?
I highly admire two very famouse writers, one is the great English writer Charle Dickins, another one is Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans and Mao – The Unknown Story. She is my best friend in Britain and most trustworthy person.

Author: marilivtollefson

I teach and play violin when not reading and reviewing books. Thanks to indie authors for opening my world and sharing theirs! Find my reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, Kobo, Midwest Book Review and BookPage, among others.

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