BookDragon Books for the Multi-Culti Reader

A Song for China by Ange Zhang [in Booklist]

*STARRED REVIEW
Fifteen years ago, Toronto-based artist Ange Zhang debuted Red Land Yellow River (2004), a gorgeous, hauntingly rendered autobiography about coming-of-age during China’s Cultural Revolution, marked by incomprehensible, chaotic, threatening change.

The beloved father he introduced then becomes the subject in this book, its title a reference to the Yellow River Cantata, a renowned eight-part patriotic Chinese song cycle with lyrics written by Zhang’s father. Best known as Guang Weiran (1913–2002), he used a dozen-plus names “to escape dangerous situations” throughout his “eventful life” during China’s turbulent twentieth century. The revolutionary poet’s greatest weapon was his writing: “In the wild power of the Yellow River” – the symbol of Chinese civilization, Zhang explains – “he saw the great courage of the Chinese people.” His iconic cantata would take its own tumultuous journey – from celebrated to banned to revered once again.

Combining antique photographs with affecting black, white, and red sketches, Zhang presents his father’s life infused with admiration and beauty. While never eliding tragic details – relentless danger, fatal violence, political fallout – Zhang presents his father’s difficult decades with subtle control, ensuring younger readers an age-appropriate introduction to major historical events. Golden colors make the latter pages glow with the English-language presentation of the cantata, followed by the original Chinese print. Zhang’s intimate gift honoring his late father becomes a revelation for new audiences.

Review: “Books for Youth: Nonfiction,” Booklist, June 1, 2019

Readers: Children, Middle Grade

Published: 2019

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