Patrick Nohrden’s “The Crystal Monkey,” a tale set in 20th century China, is one of our November fiction releases.
About the book:
Little Min Li believes she lives in the world’s greatest nation until the day the Red Guards come to terrorize her village. In the wreckage, Min Li finds a toy crystal monkey, the only thing left of the childhood she lost too soon.
In the years that follow, Min Li must rely on her hope and courage in order to survive a world that’s changing all around her. Set during the Chinese revolution and based on real events, this well-researched drama will capture your heart.
“The Crystal Monkey” is available in bookstores and from online retailers.
From the author: The opening to The Crystal Monkey shows the bleakness of the landscape, as well as the abject poverty in which we find our hero, little Min Li, a six-year-old Chinese peasant. Although she is lucky if she can eat rice twice in one week, Min Li believes she lives an abundant life in the world’s greatest nation, China, despite the oppressive nature of her time, six years into the Cultural Revolution.
The crooked gray furrows, fallowed by the early winter, crawled toward the horizon, blurring as they met the gray overcast sky as though a vandal had airbrushed out the painting’s subject, leaving nothing more than a blurred bleakness between the foreground and the background. The bare ground had been picked clean by the production team, leaving nothing to waste. Even the stubble of the cornstalks had some use. Weeds that might have been there had been eaten a long time before.
Little Min Li quickly surveyed the scene as she did every morning while making her morning dash to the outhouse. The scene changed by the seasons. In the spring, the muddy freshly tilled furrows would show sprouts of life as corn weakly grew from the unfertilized mud. Then came summer with its own hot, humid misery, the time for flying insects and snakes and the corn at only half the height it should be, ,with its wheezing promise of a harvest and the realization of production quotas that could not be met. The time of reckoning, autumn, colored only by the yellow stalks of corn, the yellow dust, and the glistening sweat of villagers in the fields, proved to be a reminder to everybody in the village that life was hard and would always be hard. But life is life, and the purpose of life is to keep living in order to better serve the dictatorship of the people and its beloved leader, Chairman Mao Zedong.
Min Li thought little of the changing seasons or the hard life of her neighbors as she ran to the outhouse. She thought only of the spider who lived there, wondering if she had spun her web across the squat hole again. Min Li’s mother, Zhou Lian Min, had assured her that the spider was harmless, that its only purpose was to catch flies who shared the same habitation. Min Li believed the spider to be thoughtless, knowing that every morning she and other members of her family would have no time to clear the spider away. Ever since that one time last spring, when Min Li did not think about the spider and squatted over the hole in the outhouse without caution and found the spider tangled in her hair, Min Li carried a stick with her. Now a routine, Min Li would enter the small outhouse waving her stick as she turned and readied herself for relief. The spider learned too, as she spun her web more often in the window these days, but it was still there, and Min Li smiled at the thought of a successful compromise. It is not often that a six-year-old gets her way.
The village loudspeakers crackled to life as Min Li exited the outhouse, just as they did every morning at 7:00 for as long as Min Li could remember. And she stood still, despite the nearness of the outhouse, despite the chattering cold of the morning air, as she listened to the same song that she listened to every morning for as long as she could remember:
The east is red, the sun rises,
From China arises Mao Zedong
He strives for people’s happiness
Hurrah, he is the peoples’ great savior
Chairman Mao loves the people
He is our guide to build a new China
Hurrah, lead us forward
The Communist Party is like the sun
Wherever it goes, it is bright
There is the Communist Party
Hurrah, the people are liberated!
And when she heard this song she thought what a wonderful life she had and how horrible life must be for people who lived in other countries. It is good to be Chinese, she thought as she heard the familiar bark of her mother, “Min Li! Ni chi la! (Min Li, come and eat!)”
Min Li quickly slipped into the main room of her family’s two-room house, the same room that served as both kitchen and bedroom for herself, her older brother, and her baby sisters, and she saw that the corn porridge had already been ladled into the bowls sitting on the low bench that served as a table. The warmth of the room sharply contrasted with the bitter cold outside, so much so that she felt no need to close the door behind her, but her brother felt differently.