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Fiction Anthologies (multiple Authors)

Long March Home, The

by (author) Zoë S. Roy

Inanna Publications
Initial publish date
Nov 2011
Anthologies (multiple authors), Women's Studies
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Nov 2011
    List Price

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The novel is the story of three generations of women, a grandmother who as a young woman went to China as a Canadian missionary nurse and who falls in love with a Chinese doctor who acts as her interpreter. Shortly after anti-western sentiment sends her home in a hurry she discovers she is pregnant by him. Attempts by her, and later their daughter, to contact him fail. Her daughter, Meihua, goes to China to look for her father and ends up marrying a Chinese man and teaching art. The cultural revolution sees her sent to prison as a American spy and anti-revolutionary, and her husband confined to a gulag. Their children, still at home, are raised by the family's illiterate servant, Yao. Yao's crude manner and resourcefulness partly shield Yezi, Meihua's daughter, and the novel's main character, from family tragedy, poverty and political discrimination, negotiating their survival during the revolution that she barely understands. Only after her mother released, does Yezi hear about her foreign grandmother, Agnes, who lives in Boston and has lost contact with the family since Yezi's birth. Curious about her American ancestry, Yezi now an adult, decides to join her grandmother in the U.S. Reading her grandmother's diaries helps Yezi get to know her grandmother as a young Canadian missionary and her life in China with the man who is her grandfather, and who her mother longed to find.

About the author

Born in China, Zoë S. Roy, an avid reader even during the Cultural Revolution, writes literary fiction with a focus on women’s cross-cultural experiences. Her publications include a collection of short stories, Butterfly Tears (2009), and two novels, The Long March Home (2011) and Calls Across the Pacific (2015), all published by Inanna Publications. She holds an M.A. in Atlantic Canada Studies from Saint Mary’s University and a M.Ed. in Adult Education from the University of New Brunswick. She currently lives in Toronto and is a teacher for the Toronto Public School Board.

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User Reviews

A great book

I liked this book because it was like a picture of the times. I could feel the fear and frustration of the people during the Cultural Revolution. Being born in Canada it is hard to believe how the Chinese people endured the suffering. I myself at the time was a young mother with three children and was not aware of the Cultural Revolution or of Mao as the monster he was. This book shows how the revolution affected a family and the losses they endured. The mother Meihua was American born and as a result, for no other reason she went to jail for seven years and her husband was confined to a labour camp. Before the Cultural Revolution, the couple had given a homeless woman, Yao, a home, who was able to return the help caring for their two younger children Yezi and her brother, while both the parents were incarcerated. It is too bad their oldest son died in Burma, because he had tried to prove he was against his anti-revolutionary parents since he was brain-washed by Mao’s revolution.
I often think about the book and how the people could follow Mao. People died from starvation and yet they still chanted his name. I found this book very enlightening and highly recommend it.

Really it's about family
With her stunning debut novel, Zoe S. Roy has proven herself a powerful voice in Canadian fiction. Spanning from China to Boston to Halifax over many decades, The Long March Home is the story of one family's experience through Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution and their struggles to define themselves as individuals and as family despite differences of culture and nationality.

Meihua, a university art professor in China, finds her loyalty to the Communist cause questioned when it is revealed that she is American born to an American (actually, Canadian) mother. Her father, whom she has never met, is Chinese, as is her husband and her three children. Nonetheless, she is arrested and sent to prison for eight years on the suspicion of being "anti-revolutionary." When her husband is also arbitrarily imprisoned, it falls to their maid to raise the children and keep them safe while they await their parents' return. The youngest daughter, Yezi, spends her early years only knowing her mother from visits to prison. Eventually things change in China and Meihua is released. Her mother, Agnes, is even able to visit from Boston, meeting Yezi for the first time. Three generations of women struggle to piece together their identities. Are they Chinese? Are they 'foreign'? How would life have been different if they had never been separated from each other? And, of course, what ever happened to Meihua's Chinese father?

I said this story is about the Cultural Revolution but really it is about family. Each of the characters struggle to come to terms with the values and conditions set by the society around them but under it all is a deep longing for family connection. When Meihua is imprisoned she denies being "anti-revolutionary" but worries that if she denies it too vigorously she will be accused of criticizing the regime and it may be even longer before she sees her children. Yezi is taught at school that it is wrong to speak out against the government yet they are the ones keeping her mother in prison. She also struggles with the idea that the bourgeoisie are evil yet her grandmother is wealthy enough to buy a plane ticket to visit them and she seems so nice. Even the reasons behind Agnes' separation from Meihua and her Chinese father are entirely informed by cultural expectations at the time, but her choices (which are eventually revealed) were all made with the best interest of her daughter in mind. However the characters feel about the values they are expected to adopt, each of them wishes for more connection to the people they love.

What I love most about this book is that it is not over-written. Roy does not paint these characters in broad strokes, making them two-dimensional ideologues who are firmly planted on one side of an argument or the other. There are no sides, only conflicts and paradoxes. The author allows her characters to be conflicted without instructing her readers, "This is how you should feel about this moment. Look at this terrible injustice and be outraged!" She allows things to go unsaid between her characters and she allows things to go unwritten on the page. When Yezi asks her mother for information about Communism or America, Meihua is patient but guarded in her answers. She knows that even things said in her own home could have a way of getting her or her daughter in trouble. When Yezi, referring to her American grandmother, asks, "She's foreign?" Meihua responds only, "How can she be foreign? She's my mother." That one line could be taken as a microcosm of the the whole novel.

This novel was both moving and delicate. I cared about the characters and their stories and found myself wondering about them even after I had closed the cover. From every angle, it was hard to pin down "right" or "wrong" or "good" or "bad," only "that which tears these people away from each other" and "that which brings them together." I felt--and this is going to sound strange--I felt wiser after I read this book. (I realize that sounds hokey. I assure you that Zoe S. Roy could have expressed the same sentiment better and more concisely. And thrown in a history lesson.)

For more reviews, please visit my blog, Cozy Little Book Journal.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for writing a review, though the review did not necessarily need to be favourable, just honest. (In fact she was pretty brave to send it to me at all because if I had hated it I would have said so, and I would have published a bad review accordingly. Lucky break for her, I'd say.) I frequently read and review books for this reason, but I am always very truthful (and, I hope, fair) in my reviews. Therefore any opinions expressed are strictly my own.

Surviving the Cultural Revolution

Reason for Reading: I love books set in 20th century China and the Cultural Revolution is of particular interest to me.

First, I'd like to say I don't like the publisher's summary of this book. The summary tells the story backwards and gives away way too much information; it's almost as if it were written by someone who only read the last half (or third) of the book. What the book *is* about is Meihua, a woman living China, her heritage is that of an American mother and Chinese father. She knows nothing of her father. We know she came to China in her early twenties fell in love with a Chinese man and stayed their for the remainder of her life. As she finds out about her third pregnancy Mao's Cultural Revolution is well underway. The two child policy is introduced, both she and her husband are teachers and thus in need of re-education. Her husband is sent to a work camp for many years, after she gives birth Meihua is sentenced to prison for thirteen years for being an anti-revolutionary because she is half-American. Her children are subsequently raised by their housekeeper/cook who is more like a member of the family.

For more than half of the book we experience the Cultural Revolution through the eyes of Meihua as she struggles to survive in a prison labour camp for the simple crime of her parentage; also through the eyes of her children who grow up without their parents for around 7 years. We see how this scary regime affected both the once middle-class and the peasant class people in such a manner that everyone was controlled by the government and the whims of a charismatic leader. The story is well-written and I enjoyed the author's voice. This is a slow novel, without much fast action, yet it has its series of major plot points. Having lived through the Cultural Revolution herself the now Canadian resident author shows us how ordinary people, villagers, peasants, teachers and a doctor's family are affected by this system that no longer respects education or personal success, yet still keeps the weak and poor just as bad off as they ever have been.
Towards the three-quarter mark the story progresses into a family generational saga as Mao dies and the new leader opens relations with the West. Mei's mother comes to China to visit for the first time and Mei's daughter Yezi becomes interested in the American/Chinese history of the family, searching out clues and answers to why the family is split between America and China and whatever became of her mother's father, whom Mei herself never met. A lovely story that will appeal to women readers who like multigenerational stories, historical tales of China and those who want to explore the real evils of Communism and especially the consequences of an all powerful charismatic leader such as Mao Zedong.

A great page turner!

The Long March Home portrays the story of three generations of the women. Agnes, Yezi's grandmother, went to China in the 1920s as a Canadian missionary nurse and fell in love with a Chinese doctor, but was sent back to Canada due to anti-western sentiment. Meihua, Yezi's mother, was born and raised in the U.S. and travelled to China attempting to find her biological father. She ended up marrying a Chinese man and settled down in China as an art teacher. During the Cultural Revolution Meihua was put behind bars as an American spy suspect and anti-revolutionary. Yezi, Meihua's daughter, finally had a chance to meet her foreign grandmother Agnes after Meihua was released. Eager to learn more about her American ancestry, Yezi decided to join Agnes in Boston and had a different experience encountering with the North American culture.

The author unveils the Cultural Revolution through vivid events. I have never witnessed the Cultural Revolution; however, the novel enables me to gain a more realistic view at and more profound understanding of the turbulent era. It was a period of dark and frightening time that people could not trust anyone because it was so easy to be misunderstood and accused by neighbours, friends and even family members and labelled as political criminal. Although I was not born at that time hence I did not experience the Cultural Revolution, through reading this novel I feel to some extent I am able to relive that calamitous era in the Chinese history.

The last section of the novel focuses on Yezi's life in Boston with Agnes. Yezi lived in both China and the U.S, therefore was influenced by both of the cultures. Readers who have cross-cultural experiences can certainly relate to Yezi by seeing her adapt to the new life and new culture. By all means, the novel would strike a chord with those who went through the Cultural Revolution and who have similar cross-cultural experiences.

In addition, my favorite part of this novel is the old secret of Agnes, which was revealed in her diaries, as well as how the biological father of Meihua was found through all the clues being gathered. The suspense throughout the novel surely raised my curiosity and induced me to continue to read in order to uncover the ending. The excitement accompanied me through my reading, which was undoubtedly worthwhile.

Other titles by Zoë S. Roy