Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Cultural Evolution/Revolution: Calls Across the Pacific a novel by Zoe S. Roy


Calls Across the Pacific is the second novel by Zoe S. Roy that describes the lives of characters affected by China’s Maoist Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Her first very good novel, The Long March Home published in 2011, was the story of three generations of women, one immersed in the time of Maoist oppression, one who escaped it in part, and a third who was not directly involved but seeks to understand her family’s legacy of life in the vast, ever changing China. 

In her second novel, Ms. Roy develops the character, Nina Huang, who escapes from Number 5 Military Farm, a re-education location for individuals from families tainted by family histories of perceived anti-Maoist revolutionary activity. Nina and her boyfriend attempt to flee to Hong Kong seeking asylum from a democratic government. The two are separated in flight, and 20 year old Nina makes her way to the U. S. with the generous help of Chinese expatriates. Working hard at tedious menial jobs, Nina makes a life for herself with the idea of ultimately learning about the contrasts between her Eastern and Western cultures through formal education.

Nina earns opportunities for basic and advanced education in the U. S. and Canada and forms relationships in her new settings. But, she does not forget her roots in China that she perceives as positive but morally restrictive in the long run but oppressive and purgative in the revolutionary short term. Using her facility with languages, Nina develops her writing skills and sets out to record the history of her family and acquaintances as a journalist. Nina has a peaceful and fulfilling life in Canada but feels drawn back to China to record the stories of people who suffered greatly during the Maoist Cultural Revolution and its aftermath. A persistent theme in Nina’s story is her view of the evolution of Chinese culture. Is this process dependent on abrupt changes through violent revolution followed by a slow recovery of enduring values? Or is China sacrificing its cultural legacy by rapidly forcing changes in the peoples’ unifying philosophy and the country’s economic strategies?

Calls Across the Pacific is written in a simple and direct style that is appropriate for teenage, young adult, and older adult readers. The freelance articles Nina writes about the experiences of a variety of people in China broadens readers’ understanding of its evolutionary/revolutionary history in the 20th Century.

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