In acclaimed memoirist Da Chen's fictional debut, he blends an account of China's late 20th-century political history with the gripping story of two half-brothers separated by fate. In 1960, Shento is born in southwest China, just before his disgraced mother, the mistress of the prestigious Gen. Ding Long, kills herself; he is found and raised by villagers. Born in Beijing that same year to the general and his wife is Tan, who is raised in luxury. Neither knows of the other's existence until they reach manhood Chen gradually brings the reader to that point in chapters written in their alternating voices.
When Shento's adoptive parents are killed, he is sent to a strict army school. There, he meets Sumi, a beautiful young girl whose intelligence matches his own. He kills to survive, he's imprisoned, then forcibly enlisted into a secret intelligence unit. When he is released, Shento is a changed man, driven by the need for revenge on his father. He is assigned to protect President Heng Tu, one of his father's old enemies.
During the same years, Tan has also changed. In high school he admires speeches about the need for China to follow in democracy's footsteps a surprising path for the son of conservative military chief. He, too, meets the thoughtful and intelligent Sumi, who believes that Shento is dead. The two head to Beijing University, where they become involved in campus political groups seeking to overthrow Heng Tu.
The story intensifies as Shento climbs higher on the ladder of the repressive government in power, and Tan turns into one of China's brightest and most progressive capitalists. The vying factions collide at Tiananmen Square in 1986, the three forever altered by the turmoil in their beloved country. Chen's memorable debut novel has many facets a family saga, a love story and a tale of political intrigue, dramatically woven into years of social upheaval.
Deborah Donovan writes from Cincinnati and La Veta, Colorado.