Top positive review
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Enthralling and moving, an unforgettable book
on 23 June 2009
Beijing Coma is both enthralling and tremendously moving. Beautifully and lucidly written, it manages to combine the panoramic sweep of the Beijing student movement with an intensely personal view of the minutiae of the events of 1989. Although the book bears the usual disclaimers - any resemblance with persons living or dead is purely coincidental, etc, I loved how so many of the main players are perfectly recognisable, so that fictional Ke Xi is so obviously student leader Wu'er Kaixi and Bai Ling is clearly Tiananmen student commander-in-Chief Chai Ling (although Chai Ling was not run over by a tank), and so on. Other students are amalgams of real life individuals, but many are still identifiable.
The events themselves are detailed and historically accurate. While capturing all the headiness of the student movement as it grew, the book reveals more than the newspaper reports at the time ever did about the squabbles and infighting among students, right up to the night of the army's final onslaught on the square and the horrors that ensued.
But Gripping as it is, this is not just a novel about the student movement and the 1989 massacre, it is also about the massive changes in Beijing, including the lives of many of the students after Tiananmen. Most touching of all, it is the story of the protagonist's mother, whose predicament is so vividly threaded through the narrative. She is buffeted by so many political pendulum swings, yet deep down continues to believe in Communism. Only after Tiananmen are her beliefs shattered. She is the Chinese Everywoman of the 1990s and 2000s, like so many of her generation, unable to benefit from the Chinese economic miracle around her. Instead, her life is dedicated to tending her comatose student son till finally she loses her mind while her old apartment is being cleared to make way for new (and corrupt) property developments in advance of the Beijing Olympics.
This is not just the ultimate Tiananmen novel, well worth the 20 year wait, it is THE Beijing novel of the post-Wild Swans era. An unforgettable book.