To the Edge of the Sky

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 30 Jan 2018

Member Reviews

Now that I look back, I realize I should have read To The Edge of the Sky much sooner. But for some reason, it took me a year to get to it. I got it after I read a great review by a friend, but reading real stories from 20th century China is usually quite depressing, so maybe I just wasn’t ready. Now I realize that reading about real life hardship can sometimes even help when you’re down, because it puts things into perspective. And this book really does that. To the Edge of the Sky explores the depth of human existence in hardship, and it does it in such a down to earth way that you won’t be able to pry yourself away. I stayed up to read it.

Anhua is a child born on the year of the Chinese revolution. When you read that she’s the daughter of two revolutionary martyrs, you sigh in relief, thinking, surely she won’t be subject to the horrors that are to come in the history of China. But you are wrong. You are so wrong… Despite being lucky in a lot of ways, Anhua experiences her fair share of terror, as she comes of age during the Cultural Revolution, as she tries to raise a child in an abusive household, as she tries to prove her innocence to the government – which is impossible in the given circumstances. To the Edge of the Sky is a gripping, sad and very honest memoir of one girl full of belief in the future of her country, growing up into a woman, disillusioned by the leaders and running away, because even when things are good, you know they’re never good for long.

To The Edge Of The Sky Shows You How History Can Be Told In An Accessible Way

To the Edge of the Sky is not a history book, but it made me think. What if history was taught in a way where we couldn’t help but relate? In a way that provokes your empathy, through real stories and real people? Instead, it is taught through dry textbooks, and after you write the test, you’ll never remember the boring details.

I’m not sure I even studied any contemporary history of China in school. Now though, I know I will never forget the history of the Chinese Cultural Revolution that was told in this book. And this was only one perspective, one person’s life, with some side characters and their lives mentioned.

What if we told our histories through the lives of the people who actually lived it?

The history of the Chinese people in To the Edge of the Sky is told one at a time – lives built one at a time and then slowly dismantled, with growing intensity. The story is told with immense sincerity, there is no added drama to make it more colorful. Opinions are not forced on you, instead the author shows the thoughts and feelings she had at the time. When it’s told in that way, you can see the slow progression of the author, changing from an all trusting child of the revolution into a disillusioned youth who can’t help but think her own thoughts, but has to conceal them from everyone else.

A Song To The Suffering Of Chinese People

More than anything, this book is a song to the suffering of the Chinese people at the hands of nothing else but some really sick and twisted bullies – a whole mass of bullies, governed by one psychopath at the helm, making the country into one bloody, messy circus where nothing is sacred and all humanity in a person dies, or is helped to die by killing the host, if it has managed to survive. The thing that is the most baffling to me about what happened in China is… That for example, the Nazis or the Soviets mostly killed, tortured and tried to exterminate only what could be called “other people” – the jews for Germans, or people who went against their ideologies. For the Soviets – mostly people from the occupied territories, and also, of course, the rich and independently minded. But China… In China, there were no “others”. After the initial revolution rolled through the land, there weren’t even really any rich people left. The Chinese revolution ate itself, I guess somewhat like the French one, except it didn’t burn out. It damaged its own people, and at least in my probably uneducated view, it seems much more directed at those very people it was trying to save than the other terror regimes that existed at the time. For in the USSR, you had to be in opposition or burgois, in Nazi Germany you had to have a certain kind of genetic factor about you, or, at the very least, disagree with the regime. But in China? It was enough to be around 14-21 when the Cultural Revolution was happening to be effectively exiled – just like unwanted elements were exiled to work camp in Siberia. In China during the Cultural Revolution, it didn’t matter if you agreed with the party or even what kind of family you came from – if you were born in a certain year, off to the work camp you went, and that was most likely the end of your life, or at the very least your health, your future or your family. I find that truly, deeply terrifying.

These Stories Must Be Witnessed – By Us

It’s hard to fathom these things that happened while most of our parents were already alive, somewhere in another part of the world. It’s hard to understand how or why such deliberate destruction of its own people, its own society made sense to the ruling class of China at that time. Its tragic, painful and hard to believe, but it has to be witnessed. And it can be witnessed by learning the stories of these people. To the Edge of the Sky is one of them.

So if you think you’ve been suffering, read To the Edge of the Sky – it will humble you. It will make you see what happens, when basic kindness and empathy is removed from the equation. What seemingly little deeds may do, change in the long run – for the better or worse. History can be a warning to us. Let it be the warning.

Beware Of The Triggers - basically, if you can imagine it, its probably in this book. If you’re sensitive, you’re very likely to be triggered.

I thank Thistle Publishing for providing a free copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This has not affected my opinion.
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This book was a hard look into a life that is almost incomprehensible to those who have never lived anywhere near the east or outside of the US for that matter.  Its one thing to "know" about the life of others, but another to be offered a glimpse into that life.  This book offers a glimpse, in a way that is real.  This is a hard book to read, but it wonderfully insightful as well.  To how people would go along with the government propaganda; how they could miss what was really happening.  

Not an easy read, but important.
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interesting story that took me quiet a while to get into because of the writing but overall was worth the read and if you are interested, defiantly worth picking up!
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The One from Mao to Mettle
Gao Anhua, To the Edge of the Sky: A Story of Love, Betrayal, Suffering, and the Strength of Human Courage (2000)

I finished this memoir two days ago and the verdict is still undecided. Undecided but not in a positive way. There were many times when I wanted to throw the book across the room (except it’s on my kindle and I don’t want to endanger the dozens perfectly great books stored alongside this one). But I plodded on, because I took pity on all the sufferings that this woman went through.

Ok, I guess that I should first take a few steps back. This book may be perfectly fine for people who have a basic knowledge of the recent history of China, from 1949 until the early 1990s. The Mao dictatorship, the Communist regime, the different repression campaigns culminating with the Cultural revolution, if you want to know what it feels like to be a girl born with the new regime in 1949, be ready to take a big box of Kleenex and work your way through it (you only need to read the long subtitle to get the idea).

But you might also have read another memoir like this one and in that case the idea is different. You might know Wild Swans by Jun Chang (that spans longer and stops in 1978), or Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie. These memoirs actually belong to a Chinese “literary” genre: the scar literature, which was tolerated for a short period in China (1977-1979), characterized by the emotional account of what people had endured, but flourished later in the West. You just need to see the Goodreads list of the hundred books available in English to realize that Gao Anhua’s fate was sadly not unique.

Now, the value of this memoir is obvious if you know that a fair amount of nostalgia for the Maoist days is present among some ageing Chinese people (many pages of Gao Anhua’s account will nip this in the bud), and a fair amount of de-politicization and negation of past traumatic events in the recent Chinese past is also going on right now in China. But the writers of these memoirs have exiled themselves to the West and are publishing in the West mainly for Western audiences, so the people who would most benefit from reading about the human cost of a Chinese totalitarian regime and political brainwashing are very likely not reading it.

As a Westerner, and as a person who has middle-aged Chinese friends and has lived in China, what sprung to my attention was what was left out of Gao’s story. In short, she was very privileged while growing up (which makes her come out as a brat more than once in the first part of the book), because her parents ranked high in the Communist hierarchy in the Nanjing area; and although they died young, when Gao was just 11, she was extremely well-connected and could count on powerful family friends and allies when political purges threatened her. She managed to not be sent to the countryside like most young people and could enter the Communist army. So her account is in no way what ordinary people went through. Strangely enough, the worst of her personal troubles came later in life, after the end of the Cultural revolution and Mao’s death, when China was opening up to the first foreign investors and joint-ventures. She also addresses Tian An Men events and her marriage to a British man, who helped her to get a visa out of the country, with a rare candor.

This memoir gave me much food for thought and reminded me of tidbits of personal confessions that some people have told me, but I would certainly not recommend it as the main source of information for the turbulent Chinese past.

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the review copy.
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I was enthralled by this book. The pacing and the way that Gao tells her story is incredible. My own knowledge of the history off China was patchy and Gao did an amazing job explaining about all the political changes. The way that this is written makes you feel for the hardships she goes through. It is a fascinating read as it shows the effects that the political situation in China from the 40s to the 90s had on the citizens there.
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A poignant and powerful story, this is definitely not a book you can read lightly. Vivid descriptions take the reader through a world outsiders can't even imagine existing. An eye-opening look inside China, in an accessible way that anyone in for a good read can enjoy.
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This autobiography can be quite dense at times as it is chock full of history, but Gao’s life was so intertwined with the rise of and rule of the People’s Communist Party that there was no way around it. (Both of her parents played major roles in the party and even though they died when Gao was young, their service benefited her in some ways.)

Although it took me a while to read because of this, I still found it informative and enjoyable. I read books like this and realize how little I know of how people in other countries live(d). I’m sure I’ve said that before and will probably say it again, but it is one of the reasons I love reading biography and history books. You get a glimpse into a part of the world you would have never seen otherwise. 

I would highly recommend this to anyone interested in China around 1940s-1990s. I learned a lot and came away with a better understanding of what China was like, both during and after the Chinese Revolution and Cultural Revolution.
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Oh wow. I have always categorised memoirs of living under Mao’s regime as ‘Wild Swans’ and ‘Not Wild Swans’ Anhua has changed all that. An incredible story that has joined my long time favourite on the top spot. 
Anhua’s Story is told with such candour and yet always this spirit of knowing that something better is waiting for her. How anyone could cope with losing her parents is one thing, to then add blow after blow to one woman’s life and it is amazing that she carried on and still trusted other people. 
This book really brought home to me that this was happening in my lifetime, a modern lifetime if you will, and how primitive life in China was when so much of the world was prospering, especially during the boom times of the 1980s. 
I have only only a few small things that weren’t perfect for me. I felt the last 5 years rushed past so quickly and it felt a bit glossed over compared to all the day to day detail of the first 3/4 of the book. And the other thing was that there was no epilogue so that we could get a glimpse of her life at the edge of the sky. I  am praying that this means a follow up book is planned. Please Anhua?
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I have read many books about this time in China's history.  This is one of the best.  It brings out a host of emotions and is very well written.  I would recommend this to anyone who has read, loved and been inspired by the classic Wild Swans.
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communist China has always been a fascination to me and this novel is just amazing.

One womans account of living under a regime that is horrifying and intriguing is a brilliant written story. 

Anhua Gao  aname that means Tranquil Flower was born in 1949, writes a vivid account of her family, growing up and the brutal truth of the times and events that shaped her life.

This is a exhilarating read., it's emotive, it' beautiful and it;s shocking. but Anhua serenity and strength shines 

This is a must read tale.
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This book is a well written vivid account of a communist family form the early communist years all the way up to the Deng reform years.The author describes in a factual way without bitterness what life in communist China authoritarian regime was like. Thus the story of Anhua Gao becomes a demonstration how dehumanizing life in communist China was/is. At the same time, it also shows that there are decent, supporting people found even in the most tenuous circumstances. This book is for everyone who wants to understand how life in communist China or any authoritarian regime functions, how it intrudes in every aspect of one's life and how one can not escape. It is different on two accounts, firstly it spans from the communist struggle for survival all the way up to 1989 the year of Tiananmen. Secondly, it is rare that a book gives the all-embracing rules and regulations which control the life of the citizen in the regime.
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I really enjoyed reading this book. For me it was a real eye-opener on what life was like in China.
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Historical books are not really my thing. However, I picked this one up because I enjoy memoirs and reading about China. The book is an excellent account of life during and before the reign of Mao Tse-Tung. The author gives an account that is well-written and interesting. Her story of the brutality, inhumane treatment, poverty, and countless and unnecessary death by a ruling monster is shocking and horrifying, while her accounts of the strength of the Chinese people and the hunger, hardships, and horrible life they live, but somehow survive is daunting.

To the Edge of the Sky is a beautiful book and should be read by everyone interested in Chinese history and culture.
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Whilst I enjoyed this book it felt like a short story rather than a well rounded read.
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