I dream of us across the centuries, my love ...
I dream of Sorceress Wu splattering the walls with your blood.
I dream of Genghis Khan and his Mongols, driving us with whips across the desert.
I dream of the sickly Emperor Jiajing and our fellow tortured concubines.
I dream of you kneeling before your captors in the Opium Wars, ready for death.
I dream of you and me as Red Guards in the Cultural Revolution, our banners held high.
The times we were friends, the times we were lovers and the times we wanted to kill each other....
Now I dream of you again, Driver Wang. You don't know it yet, but soon I will make you dream of me.
I'm not too sure what I expected with this book but probably for it to be a slightly easier read. This book begins in the anonymous first person which I kind of struggled with throughout the book. All is revealed at the end in a bit of a "aha" moment of enlightenment and I found myself after a couple of days starting to reread the book again in a different frame of mind because it finally made sense to me. I very rarely reread a book so it was interesting that I so quickly picked this up to start again.
However I won't break the suspense and tell you the ending except to say that once I knew it I retrospectively thought the book was really well written. Aside from the anonymous narrator the rest of the book is told in the third person and follows the lives of Driver Wang and his wife Yida as his life slowly unravels upon receiving a series of letters from an unknown person detailing his incarnations. These Incarnations are a little grisly (as are several of the images conjured up in this book) however they depict key windows into China's history and together form the basis for the narrative which is a little like putting a puzzle together. The story weaves from past to present and often in a slightly disjointed way that left me feeling like I wasn't quite understanding what was going on. But I clearly wasn't as the ending was a complete surprise.
I did wonder if the book might have been more engrossing and less of a struggle to get through had the anonymous first person been revealed right at the beginning but maybe I was a little dense in not guessing straight away? There were sections of this book that I read easily and very much enjoyed and taken as a whole it is a book that I can definitely recommend especially if you enjoy Chinese history. If you are struggling with it though and don't mind ruining the ending (which I definitely didn't see coming) skipping to the last few chapters might just help everything fall into place.
A very different book but one that is worth persevering with.
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"Character - the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life - is the source from which self respect springs."
Joan Didion (1934 - ), 'Slouching Towards Bethlehem'