Dancing in the River
by George Lee
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Pub Date 01 Nov 2022 | Archive Date 01 Jan 2023
Growing up in a small, riverside town, Little Bright is thrusted into the political whirlwinds along with his family during China’s Cultural Revolution. When a reversal of the winds of reform blows through the land, however, he learns the once-forbidden tongue—English—which lends wings to his sense and sensibility. At college, he adopts a new English name, Victor. With the deepening of his knowledge of the English language, he begins to place himself under the tutelage of Pavlov, Sherlock Holmes, and Shakespeare.
When the story unravels, however, Victor’s un-Chinese passion and tension threaten to topple his moral world and mental universe. Now, he must wade into an uncharted journey to unlock the dilemma and to unearth his destiny.
Drawing on his own life experiences, George Lee has fashioned an unforgettable coming-of-age story about fate and faith, good and evil, power of imagination and storytelling, and, above all, wonder of English literature.
George Lee’s novel, Dancing in the River, had me from its opening paragraph, which references Hemingway, and the writing material provided by his unhappy childhood. With vivid sensory details, lyrical language and beautiful, precise descriptions, Lee brings us directly into childhood in China, bringing the reader with him in to his aim, as he described in his book’s opening, of being both “the experiencer and the experienced.” At the end of the book, the reader feels transported into a story that simultaneously feels both fable-like, and undoubtedly real. Dancing in the River is a story that will stay with you for a long time.
-- Danila Botha, author of For All The Men (and Some of The Women) I’ve Known and Things That Cause Inappropriate Happiness
This is the kind of literary fiction that it is Guernica Editions’ honour to publish. It crosses linguistic, literary, cultural, and political borders and enriches North American English prose through the use of strong, poetic, and transparent language. This book reiterates Guernica’s vision of “no borders, no limits.” At a time when democracies are under attack and totalitarian regimes are strengthening their hold over captive populations, this book tells the story of what brings refugees and immigrants to Canada.
An extremely well-read author conversant in two languages and cultures, George Lee creates a work of imagination the reader can inhabit intellectually and emotionally. His writing opens a unique window into another tradition of storytelling. Not a translation or an apology, it is a conversation between the two worlds.
“In this book, I am both the author and reader, the experiencer and the experienced, the thinker and the watcher, the dreamer and the dream, the father and the son. Most importantly, between the two ends of the spectrum, I am a silent witness,” George Lee, Dancing in the River
-- Banoo Zan, author of Songs of Exile and Letters to My Father
Guernica Prize winning title.
George Lee will be featured in a launch and events in Vancouver, BC, as well as in various virtual events.
Stay tuned for the Goodreads Giveaway for Dancing in the River.
Physical review copies available.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 5 members
"...our life journey is a soul's journey, onward and upward and, ultimately inward...the purpose of this journey is not a place to house our body or mind, but to find a home to anchor our soul."
"(Little Bright's) journey began on the edge of the (Yangtze) River...listening to the solemn whisper of the waves...our people say a boy's fate can be revealed by how he behaves on his third birthday...". "Life is to be lived by following crowds, other people's beliefs...I was left-handed...a frightening omen."
Grandma couldn't write (didn't drink the ink) but upheld tradition with stories filled with wisdom. "If you don't eat bitterness, endure hardship, how can you rise above others?" "From time to time our stomachs growled, but we said we were full. Slumber became my best food; I cooked satisfaction in my head...I picked up the habit of escaping by creating imaginary dialogue in my mind."
Little Bright's school education included mandatory labor as well. "The countryside is our classroom." Students were taught how to build terraced gardens in the mountainside. His imagination and passion was fueled by entering the world of Charles Dickens and Robinson Crusoe, among others, from his "summer library" of discarded, banned books that were piled up in the town dump. When his crime was unmasked, eleven-year old Little Bright was required to make a public confession. He had better perform good deeds now!
It became beneficial to teach the English alphabet and sentence building to the students. By learning a foreign language, knowledge becomes power. Little Bright's awareness was further enhanced by a teacher's presentation of the rules of logic. "When the assumption you begin with is false, everything generated from that must be false." He learned "there was an enormous difference between 'what to think and how to think'." He hungrily read Sherlock Holmes, Shakespeare and Hugo. "I had stepped into a new unknown; I had no idea what I should believe anymore but I could never again close my mind...I could not unlearn."
"Dancing in the River" by George Lee is a heartfelt, beautiful coming-of-age novel that takes place during China's Cultural Revolution. "When rowing down the river, you don't know when the tidal waves will roll into you. Just smile and let your boat dance with the waves of life." Sound advice, however, Little Bright aka Victor had a dilemma. Should he embrace the past and all its traditions or be a "contrarian" and discover a future far from the mountainside and the Yangtze River? According to Grandma, "If you eat the bitterness of all bitterness, than you become a man above all men." This thought provoking literary read is highly recommended
Thank you Guernica Editions and Net Galley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
I’m not sure how to describe this narrative, part memoir, part poignant journey of a Chinese male born in a little riverside town and indoctrinated heavily as a child with anti-western sentiment. Little Bright is filled with the ideas, history, and culture of thousands of years fostered by propaganda through education and family traditions. Indeed, there were strong repercussions for viewing any angle of a subject that wasn’t sanctioned.
So the shock felt by the author during China’s Cultural Revolution is extreme. Now encouraged to learn the once forbidden English language—the better to infiltrate and turn into intelligence—the more valuable the student.
Secretly, however, the author had been questioning a lot of life’s mysteries opening doors to many more questions.
Deep into philosophical and political questions, the author transitions from Little Bright to Victor and experiences all the new found independence of a college student. More and deeper questions. And English? There was another whole exquisite literary world out there to explore.
I enjoyed many of the sayings, though there were many passages that required rereading to understand sufficient to digest. Too many quotables to list.
I felt at times that I was rereading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Much the same struggle of making sense of oneself with similar conclusions.
3.5 rounded up
“ That year, at age eleven, I discovered the pleasure of reading by the light of a kerosene lamp. But books were as rare as meat. Almost all books - other than those of Chairman Mao- were regarded as poisonous plants. To utter the word “library” was as horrifying as the word graveyard .” There was one exception, though. Tons of seized poisonous plants (meaning books) were piled up in the town’s only junk recycling depot, which became my summer library.”
This coming of age story of a young boy growing up during the Cultural Revolution in China was a learning experience giving me an idea of what that time and place was like, which spanned from 1966-1976. It’s a debut novel which has the feel of a memoir and won Canada’s Guernica Prize in 2021.
Little Bright discovers his love of books, renames himself Victor as goes to university to discover not only more from books, but also to discover who he is in the light of his wanting more than his cultural upbringing can give him. Questioning who he is, what he believes, where he wants life to take him, it’s thought provoking and moving at times.
I received a copy of this book from Guernica Editions through
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