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Let's celebrate International Mother Language Day: Chinese Novel Recommendation-Fang Hua by Yan, Geling << 芳华>> 严歌苓



February 21, 2018 is International Mother Language Day .

International Mother Language Day has been observed since 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

When I immigrated to Canada, I was 30 years old, and my mother language was Chinese. I am very proud of the beauty of this great language - Chinese. More and more people around the world are learning Chinese, with more than 1.2 billion people speaking some form of Chinese as their first language (Source: Wikipedia, Chinese language).

Today I want to recommend the best-selling novel entitled Fang Hua (Youth) written by Yan, Geling, If you have any ties to mainland China, you have likely heard about both the book and the movie. The blockbuster movie was directed by the legendary Chinese director Feng, Xiao Gang, with the screenplay by the author Yan, Geling.

Our library has a lot of books in print and eBook format by Chinese author Yan, Geling. Most are in Chinese but a number of them have been translated into English or French, and one, entitled The Banquet Bug, was originally written in English.

Feng Hua (Youth) follows the fates of several young dancers from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) dance troupe, and is high praised for the idealism and endurance of these young individuals over the course of their intertwined lives. They all come from different backgrounds and are forced into the mandatory and strict confines of army life, and face their own unique trials and tribulations that shape their lives in this coming-of-age story.

The book spans a 40 year period, and follows the struggles and fates of these young men and women, intertwined with China as a backdrop from the time of Mao’s Cultural Revolution to the following period of reform.

The primary male protagonist is Liu, Feng, a warm-hearted young man who is always helpful and good-natured with everybody. One day, he makes an innocent attempt to touch the back of his true love Ding, Ding, who misinterprets his gesture and reports him to the authorities, resulting in events that in the end ruin his life. He participated in the China-Vietnam war, and ended up losing an arm. After the war, Liu, Feng struggles to make a living during the reform-era in China.

We meet He, Xiaoman who loves Liu, Feng, although Ding, Ding is his true love. He, Xiaoman comes from a family that is on the wrong side of power during the Cultural Revolution. She was bullied at the dance troupe and only Liu, Feng treated her nicely. One time she was sick and insisted on being on the stage for a performance. As a result, she received a lot of credit, but was then accused of pretending to be ill and of being a liar. As a result, she was sent away to work at a remote army clinic. There, she’s hailed as a hero when someone exaggerates her actions following the rescue of a soldier. She suffers from depression and mental health issues as a result of her role being exaggerated, but recovers after two years of treatment.

Liu, Feng and He, Xiaoman eventually meet one another due to their shared experience of being sent to a remote military post. Tragically, He, Xiaoman ends up caring for Liu, Feng at the end of his life as he succumbs to late stage cancer.

The story is a classic and tragic love triangle. Liu, Feng’s true love is Ding, Ding, but she tore down his world, and He, Xiaoman loves Liu, Feng. I was very moved by the persistent love that He, Xiaoping  had for Liu, Feng , even though Liu, Feng couldn’t open his heart to her.

The author wrote this book as if it were a biography from her point of view, remembering and imagining the experiences of herself as a member of the dance troupe. She shows us how small, and yet significant, an individual’s fate is in the larger context of the story of a nation. She also chronicles the dramatic changes that take place in one’s life from beginning to end, and how some people betray one another and think that it is all right.

Yan, Geling’s beautiful Chinese writing is like a picture illustration, with chapters jumping off the page as if filmed by a camera.

I hope you enjoy this novel and perhaps you’ll reflect on your own Youth as well.


Image: Fang hua

Fang hua

You touched me
By Yan, Geling