Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Song of the Azalea

Congratulations are in order to Joann of Along the Journey, whose first book was just published by Penguin Canada. Joann is the co-author of Kenneth Ore's engrossing memoir, Song of the Azalea, which details his childhood growing up amidst the dislocations and horrors of the second World War and his subsequent life as an underground organizer for the Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong.

Kenneth and Joann capture his childhood experiences in vivid, almost hallucinatory fashion. Childhood games segue into rotting corpses and narrow escapes from bombings, Japanese soldiers and bandits. The traumas that Kenneth experiences create an idealistic, patriotic but emotionally closed-off adolescent and young man, a perfect candidate for seduction by a cause greater than himself and his fragmented family. Returning to Hong Kong after the Revolution, Kenneth is recruited to join the Chinese Communist Party. He devotes himself to the Party for the next 35 years, sacrificing his youth, his loves, career, material gain and his familial relationships. The book traces Kenneth's growing disillusionment with a Party that asks everything from him and gives him nothing back. Finally, a personal crisis forces Kenneth to choose between his loyalty to the Party and his obligations to his family.

I've read a lot of books about the Chinese revolution and the early period of the People's Republic, but Song of the Azalea's Hong Kong setting was new to me, as were the details of how the CCP functioned in an underground setting and subverted above ground institutions. Though the account of Kenneth's life as a recruiter in Hong Kong lacks the overt suspense of his wartime childhood, it is involving nonetheless and carries its own dramatic weight - the individual tragedy of dedicating oneself to the pursuit of some abstract, "Greater Good" at the expense of ordinary human connections. In the case of the Chinese Communist Party, the object of Kenneth's loyalty would seem to be not worthy of it, but the same tragedy can apply regardless of the cause's worthiness. Abstract causes cannot love us back, and without the love and warmth of others, a life sacrificed to any Greater Good can feel hollow indeed.

2 comments:

joann said...

Hi Lisa,
Kenneth Ore has posted the answers to your questions:

1. What were your impressions of the mainland when you went on those Party-sponsored trips? Were you able to see through to any reality or were the trips completely stage-managed?

2. Can you talk about how the "red, gray, black" lines have carried over into today's Hong Kong politics?

The answers are here at Song of the Azalea - Answers to The Paper Tiger's questions.

Thanks for reviewing and asking your questions.

Other Lisa said...

Joann,

Heading right over. Thanks!