Published by Matador on 20th December 2016
2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. This extraordinary, yet relatively unknown period, is vibrantly captured in a sequence of short stories, full of tragedy, humour and satire in beautifully crafted vignettes of life at the time, both ordinary and otherwise. The Colour of Red is a gripping debut collection of short stories, set in China, and is based on true events that took place between 1966 and 1976. Nima Lee paints the moving human dramas behind this turbulent period in a powerful amalgam of betrayal, love, hate, ridicule and brutality. With the revival of an autocratic personality cult in China today, it is a stark reminder of potential catastrophic consequences. Stories include The Helmsman, which is a unique portrayal of Mao as an ordinary man in an ordinary day, elevated to an extraordinary position. In contrast to many books, Lee encourages the reader to form their own views and judgements on this prominent historic figure who dominated Chinese politics for a century. In stark contrast, The Autumns Tale will touch your heart at the fate of two young lovers, while Mango recounts perhaps one of the most bizarre episodes in recent history. In this remarkable collection Nima Lee reveals both the tribulations inflicted upon and the resilience of ordinary Chinese people through her variety of characters including a ten-year-old girl, a journalist, red guards, university students and soldiers. Written in chronological order, The Colour of Red is a highly informative and thoroughly entertaining collection that uses historical facts to bring fictional characters to life. In every sense, Lee has made the Cultural Revolution unforgettable, skilfully navigating the subject and exploring the politics of the time without being judgemental, maintaining a high level of writing that moves one to tears.
The colour of red is a collection of short stories focusing on a period of China’s history that few know of, the great proletarian cultural revolution that began in 1966 under the leadership of Chairman Mao, (the most people know these days is that Mao was mentioned in a Beatles lyric), Lee’s evocative writing style brings back into sharp focus the chaos that reigned during that period.
Each story focuses on one segment of that history, from the students who are almost maniacal in their worship of Mao, to the teachers, imprisoned, beaten and sometimes even murdered because they teach things other than what Mao has proclaimed.
I will admit I know very little about China’s history and the last time I read anything about Chinese history was when I was in school and we studied Communism in China as part of my history class.
Lee’s characters are beautifully written and true to life, probably because they have been based on real events and real people, you can sympathise, empathise them and even dislike them for their actions, Lee has created a beautiful narrative that will encourage you to learn more about China and look at the Country in a completely different way.
I gave this 4 out of 5 *