Colors of the Mountain
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Review of Colors of the Mountain
This is the touching, and at times humorous story of the author, growing up through the famine caused by Mao’s Great Leap Forward and then the Cultural Revolution, with the added burden of having been born into the despised “landowner” class.
The author, his family and friends are people you can really become attached to and in spite of the constant backdrop of disadvantage and repression there is also another backdrop of rural china that is beguiling in its simplicity. It is an excellent snapshot of a remote part of China during this important part of Chinese History.
The book focuses on the author’s school years, and the disadvantage he and his whole family faced because of their despised status and the choices, both good and bad, he was forced to make to achieve his aim of avoiding the life of a farmer in rural China and gaining access to University. It is also about the people and the system who at times made his life utterly miserable and others who made it bearable and in the end who made all the difference.
I found this a thoroughly enjoyable story that I would highly recommend, however its usefulness in the classroom would be limited by its honesty to real life in China by not avoiding strong language and adult themes and behavior. It is also one of the best if unintentional examples of product placement I’ve ever read, to such an extent that the makers of Lucky Horse cigarettes or a tobacco company in general could seriously considering some sort of sponsorship of the author and this book.
Colors of the Mountain a vivid account of the Cultural Revolution
Colors of the Mountain Review
Colors of the Mountain by Da Chen is an autobiographical account of Da's experiences growing up during Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution.
Da's family for several generations before the Communists came to power in China had been landlords, which marks them as enemies of the revolution. The early chapters of the book show how even elementary school-age children are inculcated with the culture of hate and Da is bullied and discouraged by classmates and teachers alike.
With no friends at school, Da falls in with some junior criminals where he finds acceptance. His family is not happy about this, but with school such an unappealing environment Da finds happiness and trouble in his new social circle.
Later, as the Cultural Revolution strikes, Da witnesses some of his tormentors and detractors taking a turn in the hotseat as education is devalued.
As the Cultural Revolution grinds on, Da realizes that his lack of focus on education may limit his choices in life and struggles to master English as a pathway to college. He is helped by connections his father makes as an acupuncturist; the barter system of rural China sees many owing the Chen family favors in exchange for treatment. A Chinese Christian woman whose sister was helped by Da's father tutors him in English.
As the story ends, Da and his brother have passed the examinations and been accepted to university; they are both happy to escape the looming destiny of rural farming.
Colors of the Mountain gives a stark glimpse into the world of Mao's China and life in the rural villages that Mao's policies supposedly supported. And despite the culture of fear and repression that Da was surrounded by, he remains by and large an upbeat young man facing enormous challenges as he struggles to make a better life for himself.
While it was an enjoyable read and very informative about a culture most Americans know little about, I felt that the language was often unnecessarily coarse and so not really fit for middle school students. I would recommend the book for juniors or seniors.