Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Another Memoir - Another Crazy Childhood

You know that I have read some pretty unbelievable memoirs in my day(s); the most recent being Toni Pacini's Alabama Blue (an RBC author).  Well, I've got another one for you.  It's called Really Enough: A True Story of Tyranny, Courage and Comedy, by Margaret Zhao, with help from Kathleen Martens.  But this one is very different from the others I've read.  Why?  Because it takes place in China.  What makes it so different?  Margaret was a young child when her family, which was in the privileged class, took a dive thanks to Mao.  They went from the top of society to the very bottom.  In fact, they were specifically placed below the agrarian field workers.  Talk about your classic flip-flop!
You basically have to read it to believe it.

How did I find Margaret and her book?  Thanks go to Ann Bridges, local author extraordinaire and a friend of Margaret's.  In fact, Ann was our December author for our corporate book club in Pleasanton.  And she recommended Margaret, who is also in the East Bay.  Well, if she's going to be a book club author, then, obviously, I need to read her book!  And it is a jaw-dropper.

This book will cause to tear up, smile, and do a whole bunch of head-shaking.  You will marvel, in not such a good way, over what Margaret and her family had to go through.  I will just quote a couple of passages for you.  The 1st takes place in China, and the 2nd in the U.S., right after Margaret comes over.

Having no means to earn money or points to provide for the family, Father borrowed money from others.  It turned out borrowing money was often done, but paying back was seldom seen.  Especially at the New Year, people flowed to our house asking for repayment. Sometimes they were patient walking away empty handed.  Most of the time they were rude and angry, demanding money right there, right then, threatening to tear the house apart or storming away, promising to be back again soon.  Somehow, Father always happened to be absent during these visits.  So, whenever strangers walked in the direction of our house, our bodies shook in terror, and our hearts sank.  (P. 61)

The excitement of the newness turned from light to heavy with every single daily thing I had to do.  Even the simplest thing exploded into a hundred pieces like having to memorize each petal of a rose, its shape, its color, its placement on the bloom; it felt overwhelming and impossible.  Eating became which utensil, where to put the fork, how to use the fork, where to put it at the end, napkins on your lap, what is this food, how do you eat it, how does this faucet work?  I simply want to wash my hands!  Opening a door, showering, telephoning, and the machinery - washers, dryers - were all a mystery to be solved.  My mind could not stop the incessant scanning of the world around me.  The automatic dryer made me feel sad that the sun had no purpose.  It made no sense to use up electricity in sunny California, to not to hang the clothes to enjoy the benefits of the free sun.  There was no fear of frozen standing pants in this delightful place.  Soon, the threads of every common thing in my new life wove themselves into a dense and heavy blanket that day by day dropped down upon my happy spirit, suffocating me, making my limbs feel so heavy, weighing down my soul, wrapping me in self-pity.  (PP. 301-2)

There's a lot of tough reading in Really Enough.  But the end result is worth it.  Some of the things that Margaret ends up doing (and becoming) are pretty darn inspirational.  Do you want a memoir that shows you what perseverance looks like?  Then get a hold of Really Enough.  It will maybe make you reconsider how hard you (I!) think you (I) have it.


  1. I'm drawn to memoirs and don't think I've ever read one set in China. This one sounds heartbreaking and fascinating.

    1. It's not the best-written book I've ever read, but it does give you some sense of what it was like to grow up in a privileged class in Communist China.

  2. Interesting. Tonight Jason and I started watching the documentary Sky Ladder about a Chinese artist who was 6 when the cultural revolution began. He found a way to leave and now lives in NYC. He told a story about how bad things got. When his dog died he and his friends ate it. I can't even imagine.