Tiananmen Square

'Extraordinary' William Boyd

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Pub Date May 30 2024 | Archive Date Jun 03 2024

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'An extraordinary book. Truly important' - William Boyd

For readers who loved Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend and The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

A stunning, deeply moving novel about growing up in Beijing in the 1970s and 80s and taking part in Tiananmen Square protests

It is Beijing in the 1970s, and Lai lives with her parents, grandmother and younger brother in a small flat in a working-class area. Her grandmother is a formidable figure – no-nonsense and uncompromising, but loving towards her granddaughter – while her ageing beauty of a mother snipes at her father, a sunken figure who has taken refuge in his work.

As she grows up, Lai comes to discern the realities of the country she lives is: an early encounter with the police haunts her for years; her father makes her see that his quietness is a reaction to experiences he has lived through; and an old bookseller subtly introduces her to ideas and novels that open her mind to different perspectives. But she also goes through what anyone goes through when young – the ebbs and flows of friendships; troubles and rewards at home and at school; and the first steps and missteps in love.

A gifted student, she is eventually given a scholarship to study at the prestigious Peking University; while there she meets new friends, and starts to get involved in the student protests that have been gathering speed. It is the late 1980s, and change is in the air...

A truly remarkable novel about coming to see the world as it is, Tiananmen Square is the story of one girl’s life growing up in the China of the 1970s and 80s, as well as the story of the events in 1989 that give the novel its name: the hope and idealism of a generation of young students, their heroism and courage, and the price that some of them paid.

‘A touching story of Tiananmen memory, just like a fireside whisper with love and tears. Lai Wen is a brilliant storyteller’ - Xinran

‘Acute and intimate’ - Bookseller

'Friendship, family secrets, young love, and loss mingle with political activism in desperate times in Lai Wen’s brilliant Tiananmen Square, a novel that reveals truths about the past, a lens through which to view the present, and a warning shot for the future. Wen carries the weight of this pivotal point in history with astonishing grace and finesse' - Meg Waite Clayton, New York Times bestselling author of The Postmistress of Paris and The Last Train to London

'An extraordinary book. Truly important' - William Boyd

For readers who loved Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend and The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

A stunning, deeply moving novel about...

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ISBN 9781800753464
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Featured Reviews

WOW Tiananmen Square an autobiographical novel by Lai Wen depicts her coming of age in Beijing which took Lai over thirty years to finally write her story. I found Lai's story to be both beautiful, moving and courageous.

Lai's story starts from her childhood in the poorer part of Beijing in the 1970;s and an incident involving one of her friends taking the blame for a misdemeanour she committed as a child would haunt her throughout her life making her feel afraid of standing up for herself.

I adored the elderly bookseller she befriended whom she addressed as Uncle who introduced her to many great authors when he loaned her his books.

Lai is witness to the atrocities which unfold in Tiananmen Square in 1989 when students marched in protest to having curfews imposed on them at university. Lai also marches alongside them in solidarity joining them in hunger strikes.

Communisism and martial law rear their ugly head and tanks are brought in to stop the protesters and lives are lost as they are gunned down. The government have spread lies that the students were planning to attack them and were enemies of the state.

I loved it when Lai's grandmother tells Lai to be strong inside like Cinderella the hurt chicken who became strong thanks to grandmother's nurturing.

A memory wall where relatives of the disappeared pinned up letters and poems depicting what had happened to them in the Cultural Revolution was bulldozed but this would not erase the memories of the ones left behind. Lai's own Father wrote an inscription for her on the wall.

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I found this a fascinating read detailing life in China in the run up to June 1989. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in Chinese history of this period.

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What an absolutely fascinating book. At the start I found it hard to keep up with the story but that was probably more me than the book and I am so glad I persevered because as the story unravelled it was mesmerising and so engrossing. A remarkable read

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Tiananmen Square was a captivating and thought-provoking tale which cast a light on the life of young people in Beijing in the 1970s and 1980s. I was caught up in the characters and events right from the start and the story held my interest through to the end as we followed Lai during her formative years and got a sense of the political situation in China at that time. I am giving this book 4 stars.

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An autobiography that culminates in the events of 1989 in Tiananmen Square. An interesting read. I am pretty familiar with Chinese history and culture but it was fascinating hearing about a regular person's upbringing. The Tiananmen Square bits don't kick in until nearly the end and then it's a real kick in the gut. I remember this very well and visited the area a couple of years later where, extraordinarily , nothing at all was visible or marked the atrocity in any way. Nothing. There is one revelation about the identity of a certain person and if this is true it needs to be shouted far and wide.
I would have liked more political detail about the ending but I think the author wrote this more as a memoir so that's fine

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This is a remarkable book with an important story. I can understand why it’s been so long in the making; it’s an incredibly personal memoir and Lai Wen has shown exceptional courage in drawing upon her life experiences to document some of the realities of life in China during and after the Cultural Revolution.

It’s difficult for westerners, used to alleged freedom, to understand what it’s like to live in a totalitarian and oppressive regime. Lai has captured many of the intimacies of day to day life as well as some of the atrocities. We are largely familiar with the photo of the young man holding a flag in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square. He didn’t live long after that photo. Along with another estimated 10,000 students, he was slaughtered by Chines soldiers ( mainly brought from the North of China ), to subjugate further revolution.

Kai tackles a very complex and difficult era with compassion and honesty in this truly moving account, It gives those of us on the outside an opportunity to glimpse the rigours of living under a Communist regime and understanding of a culture entirely different to our own. It’s very well written and there is much joy as well as sadness and although the subject matter is often challenging, I have to say I really enjoyed this.

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An important book. I learnt many things about China. Well written and draws you in to the story and lives leading up to Tiananmen Square. Thank you to #netgalley and the publisher for an advance copy.

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This is a good story that is autobiographical and tells the story of the author. She is a talented writer and I'm curious as to what she writes next!

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Tiananmen Square by Lai Wen is a deeply compelling, humanising and heartfelt account of the life of a young person in Beijing leading up to the terrible events of June 1989 and one of the most poignant images of the late 20th century

This book is absolutely fascinating and it is a significant reminder that history told from the perspective of people who lived it gives a deeper understanding than when it is told from the perspective of thos from the outside. Yes, you get a certain level of understanding from observers, but to truly understand, an account from a person who lived it, grew up in the regime and experienced social change as it happens, gives a more holistic, deeper insight

A fantastic account and essential insight that an autocratic government regime is never representative of all of the people it controls.

Thank you very much to Netgalley, Swift Press and the author Lai Wen for this very important and illuminating ARC. My review is left voluntarily and all opinions are my own

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Lai Wen's novel, Tiananmen Square, will bring to mind in most western readers mind that famous image of tanks rolling towards a protestor during the protests and massacre of the 3rd of June 1989. It immediately frontloads the reader with an expectation. The novel does feature those events, but it spends a long time getting there, because this is not the story of those events, but of a girl, growing up in China. She loves to read, her world is expanding, and Lai Wen beautifully shapes her on the page. Much here feels very autobiographical, authentic and is at times moving. It is easy to mistake this as memoir than fiction.

Lai Wen is a very fine writer and this was a fine novel. It is simple human stories such as these that can shine a new light on major events, and for anybody interested in the human story of Tiananmen Square and China in the late 70s to 80s, this is perfect.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publishers for the ARC.

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Deeply personal and moving account of a young girl growing up in 1980's Beijing. The student protests of April to early June 1989 in Tiananmen Square provide the historical backstop for the period and mark Lai Wen's final coming of age. It is beautifully written and filled with characters that showcase both the very best and the very worst of humanity. Highly recommended. Definitely one of my two favorite books of 2024. Special thank you to Swift Press and NetGalley for a no obligation digital advance review copy.

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I enjoyed this book a lot and felt it was a good balance between an autobiographical account and the actual events of Tiananmen Square. It was interesting to learn about Chinese culture and how even the older population supported the students. The characters are well defined and I loved Po Po and the influence she had on Lai and also her brother .
Definitely recommend this book - thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for the ARC.

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I found this book fascinating. I learnt so much about the times and hardships. Loved the characters although very emotional from start to finish. Loved reading Lai story and how she grew up all the things that happened in her life and how she overcame things and dealt with hardships.

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Tiananmen Square follows Lai Wen growing up in Beijing during the 1970s and 1980s, during a period of the political unrest and social change. Written as a mix of a memoir and novel, we follow her from her childhood in a poorer part of the city to her studies at Peking University and the protests of 1989.

A compelling and insightful account of a turbulent period in China's past, it’s a fascinating book, one that has really made me reflect on how privileged we actually are! It’ll be a read that stays with you some time after you finish reading it.

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Everyone knows, or should know, and never forget, what happened in Tiananmen Square in 1989. I was perhaps at an age where the gravity of the situation passed me by. But subsequently, I've been to China many times and studied their economic strategy, so I was very keen to get my hands on this book. To understand what brought the person to stand in front of a tank so defiantly.

So this book, written some thirty years later, is the journey that led to that moment, seen through the eyes of a young girl growing up in communist China. Part memoir, part novel, deeply personal writing.

It is beautifully written. You feel you not only know the characters, but I have images in my head of their appearances. You know the individuals so well by the end that it invokes strong emotion, and I very rarely get emotionally entangled in book characters, but I did cry at the end!

The revelation around who stood in front of the tank and why is a major surprise, and indeed describing that would be a spoiler. So I highly recommend this book not only for the journey, but for the end scene.

Many thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.

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A very detailed account of student life before the protests in Tiananmen square ,it was really chilling .

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I remember the student demos held in Tiananmen Square in the late 1980s, especially the lone figure standing in front of the tank as it rolls ominously towards them. This novel, drawn from the author's experiences growing up in China reimagines how one student, Lai, finds herself in the Square as the demonstrations grow. The story deals with her complex relationships with her family and friends as well as the impact of the Chinese Revolution and its aftermath.
i found that I could not put this book down; I was intrigued by the history as much as the storytelling.

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Part memoir, part novel, this is an extremely impactful book charting the life of Lan as she grows up in Beijing. I’m ashamed to know that before reading this I had very little idea of the atrocities committed in Tiananmen Square or why they occurred, so this book hit harder than perhaps it would have done if I were already aware.

It’s a beautifully written, atmospheric book that stays with you long after reading.

With thanks to the publisher for access to this ARC.

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This is an incredibly moving book which shows life in Beijing in the 70's and 80's through the eyes of Lai, a young girl coming of age. At times she struggles to find her place in life as she compares her relationship with her family to that of her friends. We watch her grow up in the political turmoil of the era leading to the horrors of Tiananmen Square when the young students rail against the regime's dictatorial control . Beautifully written, this book opened my eyes to China in the same way as 'White Swans'.

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This book follows Lai as a teen as she grows up in Beijing with her parents, grandma and little brother. With political tensions as the core theme of this story, we also get to know Lai and her relationships, particularly with her grandma. When tragedy strikes in her family, Lai’s grappling with her studies, her greater involvement in politics and how she feels about herself. This is a great coming of age novel with so many key themes, it really took me on a rollercoaster!

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This is a thought-provoking novel that gives insight to quite a few important life-issues. Namely: Growing-up, Family relationships, friendship, decision-making, and Chinese Culture.

I loved the description of her family from a young girl growing up's perspective. Who could fail to admire "Po Po" - an amazing character!

The author's friends were all so different and interesting. It showed that important aspects like susceptibility to peer-group pressure varies over time.

I had little or no knowledge of Chinese culture but this book opened my eyes and showed that (politics apart) there is more similarities than differences.

I believe the ending was so so clever! I wonder if that is what really happened in Tiananmen Square!

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A great insight into China in the early 80’s. Thought provoking read. I really enjoyed this, more than I thought I would. Thanks NetGalley and publishers for the arc of Tiananmen Square by Lai Wen.

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Tiananmen Square by Lai Wen is a powerful and poignant novel. The story chronicles Lai’s coming of age beginning in 1970’s Beijing, where as a young girl she lives with her parents, younger brother and grandmother in a small flat in a working class area of the city. Her grandmother is a formidable presence in her life and her humorous, uncompromising characters shapes Lai’s own ambitions. Alongside her friends, an early encounter with the police is also a defining moment in Lai’s life as she comes to terms with the boundaries of her country, her city, her home, her friendships, her love and her education. When Lai wins a scholarship to Peking University, her world is opened up further to new ideas, thoughts, friends and revolutions. The protest events of 1989, from which the novel takes its name encapsulates the hopes and aspirations of a generation of young students who paid the ultimate price for their courage and commitment. The story captures these events through the personal perspective of our central character and her friends which makes it both vivid and compelling. The writing is beautiful and dynamic but I feel the novel lagged slightly in the middle before regaining momentum for a stunning final third. It is an epic of intimate moments and touchstones that shape a persons life for fans of literary fiction. Emotional and evocative 4.25 Stars ✨.

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"Tiananmen Square" by Lai Wen is probably one of the most memorable, poignant, emotional books I've ever read. Despite knowing how it would end in such a tragic way, the tension towards the end was difficult to bear. More than a testimony of a very dark moment in history, it's a testimony on the rite of passage from childhood to adulthood, with all its depths, pains, fears, and doubts, aggravated by the oppression of an authoritarian regime. It's about a cultural reality that many of us know so little about. This will not be everyone's cup of tea; it's not a historical account nor a political essay. But it's powerful and emotionally raw. I felt the narrator's voice very engaging and approachable - I felt quickly deeply immersed in the narrative due to Lai's beautiful, natural, and uncomplicated speech. This will crawl for a while under my skin. Can I give a 6th star? Thank you Netgalley and Swift Press for such an amazing ARC!

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Tiananmen Square shows us what it was like growing up in the 70s and 80s in Beijing, through the eyes of Lai Wen, the author’s pseudonym. She’s a sympathetic character, not least in her love of reading; as a reader I too seek the ‘weightless flow of concentration’. We follow Lai over the years so we see how her views have been shaped: by her beloved grandmother, given to quiet kindnesses and from a generation that still knew foot binding; by her taciturn father, whose involvement in past protests is kept veiled; by her stern mother who so rarely lets her guard down.
It’s difficult for an outsider to comprehend the oppression in communist China. Even within that supposedly equal society there were gross inequalities: a rich person who transgresses might be able to start again somewhere else but without money, without influence, the future is bleak. The risks taken by those who dissented were huge; that journalists joined the protests was shocking.
It is two-thirds of the way through the book before Lai’s name is spelled out. I like what that reveals about her sense of identity; by this point she is a young woman and starting to learn about a world beyond her own. It takes a personal experience, though – knowledge that what she witnessed is not what is reported – that really opens her eyes. That worked the other way round too – the troops brought in from the provinces to crush the protests were indoctrinated, told the students were rioters who had killed soldiers.
This book is about the protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989. It’s also one woman’s story of her childhood and adolescence in a China indelibly shaped by the Cultural Revolution and Deng’s dictatorship. The demarcation of novel, memoir and autofiction is not a clear one and that works to great effect here; I read Tiananmen Square believing every word.

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I have reviewed Tiananmen Square by Lai Wen for book recommendation and selling site LoveReading.co.uk.

I’ve chosen Tiananmen Square as a LoveReading Star Book and a Liz Pick of the Month. Please see the link to the site for the full review.

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“Being human is about remembering. We are the sum of all our memories. And yet, everyone forgets.”

Memoir or fiction? I would say memoir, written under a pseudonym to protect the author, and any family members remaining in China. This story is about growing up in Beijing in the 1970s and 80s. There is something so deeply touching, tender yet powerful in the writing.

We follow Lai on her journey as she leads us through her childhood and teenage years. She tells us of her fears, anxieties and insecurities which are so painful yet exquisitely written. Her voice is soft and sensitive. Lai introduces us to her friends, playful and innocent until an incident with the controlling regime’s police brutality and forever changes her.

We get to know her family. The withdrawn father. The bitter angry mother. The rebellious, spirited grandmother whose strength grounds them all. Each character in their own way presents us with lingering aspects of the Cultural Revolution. Tiananmen Square viewed, for most of the book, from a distance, is the ever present reminder of this past. As the story develops we are witness to Lai’s awareness changing and her political activism developing while attending Peking University.

It is only there, near the end of the book, that the story brings us to the events of the student rebellion of 1989 in Tiananmen Square. Lai is our witness to the actions of the government, the military, and the consequences of her friend's involvement..

This coming of age story is compelling, haunting, emotive and written beautifully. By the end, it left me in tears. It is a book I will long remember.

Thank you to the publishers and to NetGalley for the ARC.

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This book is beautifully written. I read it slowly as I wanted to savour every word. The book is based on the author’s life. It is not clear how much is fictionalised but the students protesting in Tiananmen Square in the late 80s is a part of history I remember well as my parents were visiting that part of China when this happened. I remember being worried about them. However, my concern pales into insignificance when you consider the worry the families of these students went through. The author was a student at this time and the last part of the book describes in detail the feelings of solidarity but also of fear. The author no longer lives in China and is able to tell her story. However, much as this is very interesting from a historical point of view, it is the first part of the book that I really love as the author writes about childhood so well. It brings back vivid memories of my own childhood. I came from a totally different background but our hopes, dreams and worries were similar. Thank you Netgalley for allowing me to read and review a book that I definitely recommend.

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🇨🇳 REVIEW 🇨🇳

Tiananmen Square by Lai Wen
Publishing Date: 30th May


📝 - As a child in Beijing in the 1970s, Lai lives with her family in a lively, working-class neighborhood near the heart of the city. Thoughtful yet unassuming, she spends her days with her friends beyond the attention of her parents: Her father is a reclusive figure who lingers in the background, while her mother, an aging beauty and fervent patriot, is quick-tempered and preoccupied with neighborhood gossip. Only Lai’s grandmother, a formidable and colorful maverick, seems to really see Lai and believe that she can blossom beyond their circumstances. But Lai is quickly awakened to the harsh realities of the Chinese state. As she moves through childhood, adolescence and into young adulthood, she is exposed to the real world in many ways, and struggles to find her own identity amongst the ever changing world around her.

💭 - This was really a brilliant piece of literature. Reading almost as a memoir, we are taken through the smallest moments of Lai’s life, however insignificant they may seem. And yet, even at more than 500 pages, everything was valuable, whether it be a small interaction within the family, Lai’s general personal musings on her experiences, or a more significant event, and that is quite a feat. While Lai is naive, this is not in an unrealistic sense, and all her thoughts and actions flow in a coherent manner, creating a really well developed character. Additionally, I felt that I learnt a lot about China during the 1970s-90s through this book, as it gave real historical context, without seeming too heavy, and I really value being able to take away some additional knowledge from a work of fiction.

Overall, one I would definitely recommend, especially to lovers of coming-of-age and/or historical fiction - don’t let its length put you off!

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A brilliant and important read.
Think you know what happened back in 1989 in Tiananmen Square? Think again.
An engrossing look at life growing up in China in the 70s and 80s cumulating in the protests in Tiananmen Square. Leaving aside this important historical event, we get an insight into a totally different upbringing to that of children in the western world and yet for all those differences there are so many coming of life similarities too.
A read that will educate you and stay with you long after the last sentence is read.

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Tiananmen Square follows Lai, growing up in post-Cultural Revolution China. We follow her from childhood to adulthood, experiencing all the usual rites of passage alongside her. However, far from the typical youth, the reality of the political regime is ever-present; while often at arm’s length, at times it is terrifyingly close. As Lai finds her place, her friends and her voice, we bear witness to the stirrings of rebellion, the courage of resistance and find ourselves alongside Lai in Tiananmen Square in June 1989.

This is a novel, however it draws on the author’s personal experience of witnessing these events. Lai Wen grew up in China but left in 1989 following the horrors of Tiananmen Square. She recounts these events now under a pseudonym and, although a work of fiction, the author’s real-life connection to this part of history gives the work a depth that marked it out to me. The character’s actions and emotions feel anchored in a truth that can only come from first-hand experience. At points, this reads almost like a memoir, which for me contributed to the emotions I felt as a reader- through fiction, the author is able to speak her truth.

This novel is one that gets under your skin and is hard to shake off. I really enjoyed the pacing here too - the first parts read slower as Lai grows up and goes about her daily life. Then, as she is enveloped in a cultural movement, the writing quickens and builds to its crescendo in the final part. It’s impressive.

If you’re looking got a full novel about the student protests, this isn’t it. This is the journey of an ordinary girl, from growing up in an apartment a stone’s throw from Tiananmen Square to finding herself experiencing its darkest day.

I would definitely recommend this one - it’s not an easy read but I feel it’s an important one. It’s captivating, intimate and so moving, I finished it in tears.

Thank you to Swift Press and NetGalley got the eARC of this book!

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Wow! This was a stunning novel, based on the real life events in Tiananmen Square in 1989, and it was a truly absorbing recollection of events, based on a young girl growing up in China and seeing how her perception of the world changes as she gets older.

We start the journey with her as a young girl living with her family during the 1970's and we already see the impact the regime of the time had affected her parents and the older generation. Each character we meet is so different, and that gives a really fascinating insight into how each person of different ages and character traits had dealt with life around them - from her father, to mother, to her grandmother. Lai is just a young girl so we watch the world through her eyes, and a lot of her time is just spent 'being a kid'! You see her become aware of differences and looking to challenge the world, but at home is not the place where she feels free to discuss things.

She soon finds the owner of the local bookshop becomes her 'safe' space, and he became one of my favourite characters, along with her grandmother, as he introduces her to new literature and becomes her 2nd uncle as he isn't afraid to give her a different take on the world they are living in.

The story continues through her school years, to college life, where she becomes even more aware of all things political as censorship begins to increase and as I remember watching the protests on TV at the time, it makes it more poignant to see it through the students eyes of what was going on and knowing that it was something historic.

I loved the way the story was told, and how spending time with all these characters that you really felt part of the family, seeing how they all dealt with what life was throwing their way, and watching Lai evolve through the different stages in her life was engrossing and it feels like a very honest and moving recollection of truly historic times. Highly recommended!

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