City Gate, Open Up by Bei Dao, translated by Jeffrey Yang [in Booklist]
Bei Dao is considered the most prominent of China’s “Misty Poets,” named for the abstract, opaque nature of their compositions written predominantly during the oppressive Cultural Revolution. In contrast, the language of Bei Dao’s memoir, seamlessly translated by fellow poet Yang, is elegantly simple and guilelessly accessible.
As if signalling full disclosure, Bei Dao only uses his birth name, Zhao Zhenkai, throughout. After almost 13 years of exile, Bei Dao returned in 2001 to visit his ill father in a Beijing that “had completely changed.” Feeling like “a foreigner in his own town,” he conjures his memories to open a “city gate” to a disappeared Beijing, his coming-of-age inextricably intertwined with the tumultuous history of modern China.
Like memories, Bei Dao’s narrative isn’t linear or exact, but rather recalls momentary snippets and extended interludes flowing effortlessly between time and experiences. Winter white cabbage, vinyl records, pet rabbits, banned books, and first and last “I love yous” provide intimate glimpses that “open up” to reveal extraordinary, immediate testimony of challenges survived in a life intensely lived.
Published: 2017 (United States)