Patrick Nohrden’s “The Crystal Monkey” concludes our free previews for the month of November, but we’ll bring you more from our December titles beginning Monday, Dec. 1.
Here’s what one of the reviewers on the book’s blog tour had to say about the book:
“Even though this book is a work of fiction, it felt authentic. It was hard to read about a village being exposed to executions. It was hard to read about some of the experiences that Min Li endured. It was hard to read about the dominance of men in the home. While they were hard things to read about, they were important to the story and the transformation of a child to a young woman who realizes the problems with her government. This book is a great coming of age story.”
Here’s an author-selected excerpt from “The Crystal Monkey,” which is available in bookstores and from online retailers, to tide you over until Monday when we start the new month’s excerpts.
From the author: The spider in this chapter is a metaphor for the evil nature of the Red Guards who have taken up residence in Min Li’s small village. Their alleged purpose was to root out evil and to correct the counterrevolutionary tendencies of the peasants, but actually all the did was to create fear, leaving the village victimized by their evil ways, serving no purpose whatsoever. It also shows that Min Li’s big brother, Xiong Yong, is willing to protect his sister despite the dangers.
Min Li slept later than usual. When she awoke, thin corn meal porridge waited on the bench to be eaten. Xiong Yong helped Lian Min this morning, since the school was closed. Min Li crawled out of the kang, pulled her winter shoes onto her sockless feet, threw her winter coat on, and headed out the door to the outhouse. She sleepily dragged her feet, stumbling slightly when her foot dragged across a stone in her path.
She wrestled a moment with the outhouse latch, a seemingly impossible task until her thumbs could start working, finally getting the door open. Min Li’s plans changed suddenly when she saw the spider. This was not a typical garden spider taking refuge in the natural warmth of an outhouse to avoid hibernating in the winter. It did not have the bright blue abdomen of its predecessor. This new spider was ugly. Its ugly hairy body gave it the appearance of already having been engorged by its prey. Its web was not a delicate work of artistic excellence but was so thick and mottled, it looked like smoke and the spider seemed to float heavily in the middle of the smoke, which must have been quite a feat, because balled up, the spider looked almost as big as a ping-pong ball. It looked like it meant business. It looked like it was here to stay.
Min Li lacked the resolve needed to deal with the spider, so she simply squatted outside behind a stump that had once been an apricot tree. The cold air on her exposed backside reminded her of the bitter cold of the night before and the horrors of the evening in front of the old church. She remembered too vividly how Father Wang was beaten and then taken away with Mr. Li, how the two paramours were summarily executed and their bodies, tied together, were hung from the eaves of the church. She remembered the teachers being silently led away. And she remembered the crystal monkey. Min Li reached into her coat pocket and found the monkey, still intact. Taking a quick glance at her booty, Min Li noticed at once how the monkey was still smiling.
Min Li tucked the monkey back into her pocket and dashed for the door, more to get out of the cold than to eat breakfast. It all seemed like any other breakfast. Xiong Yong sat on the floor at the bench slurping his porridge. Lian Min suckled the younger girls. But Xiong Yong would not be going to school today, and the future looked less certain than it did before. Min Li started daydreaming about the crystal monkey.
“Min Li,” her mother said, breaking into Min Li’s daydream.
“Don’t do anything to bring attention to this family.”
“What do you mean, Mama?”
“You know exactly what I mean, child. You left the house in the middle of the night. You scared me half to death. I heard those gunshots and you weren’t in bed. What was I supposed to think?”
“They didn’t shoot me, Mama. One of those Red Guards killed Zhu Pan Nian for looting the stuff on the street in front of Mr. Li’s shop.”
“Goodness! Are you sure?” Lian Min worked with Zhu Pan Nian’s mother in the same production team. “How do you know?”
“I saw it.”
“You were there?” Lian Min asked, half-believing.
“Sort of. I was hiding in Mr. Li’s shop.”
“Why on earth were you hiding in Mr. Li’s shop?”
“To rescue the monkey. Mr. Li acted like it was the most special thing in the shop, and he said I could have it when he dies. I want to give it to him when he comes out of prison.”
“Keep it.” Lian Min knew too well that Mr. Li would never come out of prison. “But those Red Guards we met last night suspect you, and they might come back. You better hide that thing, and hide it well. I wish you hadn’t gone out on your little escapade.”
“But, Mama, it was the right thing to do.”
“Nothing is the right thing to do anymore. Hide that toy.”
“How about under the kang?” Min Li asked.
“Absolutely not. That’s the first place they’ll look. People always hide things under their kangs. Every thief knows that, and those Red Guards are nothing but thieves. From what I’ve heard, they gotten pretty good at finding people’s hidden assets.”
“The outhouse,” offered Xiong Yong.
“The outhouse. People don’t hide things in outhouses. They think it’s too gross. Nobody will look there.”
“What about the spider.”
“No. The new spider. I’m afraid of it.”
“Oh, so that’s why you were squatting behind that old stump this morning,” chided Xiong Yong. “Let’s go spider hunting. Then we’ll hide your monkey.”
“Finish your breakfast first. We can’t afford to waste and I’m not cooking again until supper,” Lian Min warned.