Daughter of the river
By Hong Ying
Having read K-the art of love recently, I became very curious about its author and decided to read her autobiography next. It didn’t exactly tell me how she came to write K, nor how she came to write at all, but it turned out interesting nonetheless.
Hong Ying was born at Chongquing in 1962, at the end of a major famine that hit China as a result of population growth and mismanagement of the agricultural production. Thus, her novelized recollection of her childhood, culminating in discoveries about herself that she makes on her 18th birthday, could have easily produced one of those misery memoirs that have been so epidemic in recent years.
What saves it from descending that road is the curiously detached voice of the author who never seems to pity herself or the other protagonists. She describes hunger, violence and the regular sight of dead bodies floating down the river with equal emotional detachment, making the reader wonder whether this is a natural defence that children develop when they grow up in horrific circumstances, or whether there is an Asperger gene or two at play. For a teenage girl, our heroine cares remarkably little about what other people think. She sometimes even muses about her own detachment and aloofness.
Driven by her quest to solve the mysteries of her past, this story is quite gripping, even though the signposting often gives the events away beforehand. Most of all, it makes readers born at around the same time in a different place (like me, for example), consider ourselves very lucky indeed. What we now need from her is a sequel telling us how she escaped from the life of misery that could have become her destiny, and how she became a writer recognized around the world.