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Book review: Apologies Forthcoming by Xujun Eberlein June 25, 2008

Posted by emsgeiss in Book Reviews, writing/editing/blogging.
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A Blog Stop Book Tour Book Review by Erika-Marie S. Geiss

The stories in Xujun Eberlein’s Apologies Forthcoming (Livingston Press, 2008 ) are a remarkable display of historical fiction where lyrical and vivid imagery  punctuate the socio-political climate of post-Cultural Revolution China. Eberlein’s descriptions of art, music, poetry, love and the beauty of the landscape are prominent metaphors for the emotions that her characters feel and the struggles they face as they emerge from the aftermath of Mao’s last decade in power.

In Pivot Point, where the protagonist, a woman of the “aging youth,” sent to the country side to be educated during the Revolution, finds that at almost 30 — the age of standing — she is “too high to reach,” and unmarriagable. While she achieves great stature professionally, belief in the Party is not enough. She wants something more and contends to endure a relationship with a married man, until she reaches her own tragic pivot point. One line in particular from Pivot Point describes the underlying theme of the entire collection of stories aptly:

“It is not without reason that the Chinese
character for ‘endure’ is a knife atop a heart.”

Eberlein’s ability to shape the Chinese character for endurance where filial, platonic, familial and romantic love are placed secondary to and under the weight of a stark, cold instrument of power and might resonates. Her protagonists struggle with the desires that seem to be in binary opposition to their duties, and each one faces a challenge of reconciling this complicated state, some triumphantly, others tragically. Eberlein’s cultural understanding is intimate, having grown up in Chongqing, China during the period. With the distance of time and geography, after moving to the United States in 1988, her descriptions of the turbulent period and the haunting memories of now middle-aged people, who as youth zealously killed in the warring factions on the Red Guard are unbiased.

Without casting an opinion on the Maoist Cultural Revolution, Eberlein places her characters in this time of social upheaval in a frank and matter-of-a-fact way and the historical facts are presented as events that shape her characters as directly as wind and rain shape the landscape and are as indelible. In Snow Line, Shiao Su abandons his poetry — a representation for his true self, for the “stability” of what is expected of him. And in Second Encounter, set in Massachusetts nearly forty years removed from the Cultural Revolution, a Sichuan man learns that events that unfolded while fighting in the Red Guard had a greater purpose that he could never have foreseen.

The collection of stories in Apologies Forthcoming are pure, real and speak to universal truths about the human condition that transcend geography or time. Eberlein’s eight stories are poignant and so well-written that they beg to be read aloud.

About the Author
Xujun Eberlein grew up in
Chongqing, China and moved to the States in 1988 and in 1995 earned her Ph.D. from MIT, winning an award for her dissertation.  Eberlein joined a small but ambitious high tech company, where she worked until 2003, when she gave up tech for writing. Since then she has won several literary awards and her stories and personal essays have been published world-wide. Apologies Forthcoming is Eberlein’s debut collection of stories and in 2007 won the prestigious Tartt Fiction Award.

To learn more about Xujun Eberlein, visit her Web site or her cultural and literary blog Inside-out-China.

Apologies Forthcoming is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Booksense and Powell’s.

This review is part of the June 2008 Blog Stop Book Tours series:

The next blog-venues on the Blog Stop Book tour for Apologies Forthcoming by Xujun Eberlein are:

Previous Blog Stop Book Tour venues for Apologies Forthcoming can be viewed at the following locations: