Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Revolution is Not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine

This semi-autobiographical book tells the story of Ling, a young girl who lives in Wuhan, China during Mao's Cultural Revolution. The story covers three or four years, beginning when a Cultural Officer, Comrade Li, comes to live in her family's housing complex. Ling watches as her neighbors turn against each other, as school children become so wrapped up in the conflict that they condemn their teachers, and she deals with her parents neighbors and closest friends being humiliated and sent to work camps. Her own family is seen as being too bourgeoisie, and her parents are punished by being forced to work menial jobs at the hospital where they were once doctors. The story ends after Mao's death, and although her family is back together again, it is clear that Ling will never be the same.
The writing level of this book is such that it could easily be read by middle schoolers, and maybe even well-read fifth graders. None of the material would be objectionable for this age group, and the book teaches valuable lessons about the meanings of ideas like free speech and patriotism. The scariest part about the book is the role the children play in the revolution, the way they are brainwashed so easily. It is important that kids have a book to read that shows the truth behind such movements, and teaches them to question even what their government tells them. This book, while simplistic, could definitely serve as a starting point for discussion with teens about these issues.

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