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Book Gang of One: Memoirs of a Red Guard (American Lives) by Fan Shen (2006-03-01)

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Gang of One: Memoirs of a Red Guard (American Lives) by Fan Shen (2006-03-01)

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    Fan Shen(Author)

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  • Fan Shen(Author)
  • Bison Books (1688)
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Review Text

  • By Frank on March 10, 2015

    Entertaining enough but a bit too obviously written to sell. The author is self-aggrandizing and doesn't have much to say about the human concerns of people in the story, except for the main character, whom he portrays as a would-be robber barron in a country where that was possible only for those with narrowly defined qualifications based on birth and connections. Character names are a bit too cute. I'm studying the Cultural Revolution. For reliable portrayals and good writing, I rate "Wild Swans" very highly, and "Red Azalea" as a laughable fabrication. The success of the latter might have inspired this book, although Fan Shen is a substantially better writer. If Fan Shen were to accept constructive criticism and write two more drafts, he could produce an excellent novel.

  • By Frank Chen on May 7, 2005

    This is a can't-put-down coming of age story. Fan Shen writes hypnotically, telling one nearly unbelievable episode after another about his life growing up during China's shameful Cultural Revolution. I can't recommend this book more highly.I'm Chinese-American. I have an Indian-American coworker with whom I often discuss whether China or India will be the next economic superpower. His argument is that China will far outstrip India as an economic powerhouse because its centralized, authoritarian government can guide the country more effectively towards economic growth. Compared to India, he argues, China has much more effective political machinery for implementing policies from on high: a strong central bank, a single language, a willingeness to try out revolutionary policies, etc.I think the jury is still out on the China vs. India as the next economic superpower. But what's clear to me -- and what Mr. Shen's book illustrates perfectly -- is that there is also a big downside to effective political machinery. Namely, when you have misguided leadership controlling that political machinery, the result is dramatic suffering at truly staggering scale.In episode after episode, Mr. Shen relates the pettiness, the brutality, the completely arbitrary nature of life during the Cultural Revolution. Neighbors could denounce you an enemy of the state and have you tortured and killed without a trial. Entire cities could be forced to drink water so polluted that everyone's teeth first blackened and then started falling out one by one. Having the wrong book could get you sent into the countryside for a lifetime of hard labor ("reeducation") -- which might look like terracing a hill in the dead of winter, even though the locals knew that the spring rains would completely undo your back-breaking work.Despite the grim subject matter, Mr. Shen's prose is captivating. His characters are real, engaging, and three-dimensional. The techniques he used to survive -- and ultimately escape -- were ingenious, hilarious, and dramatic. There's even a love story woven through the narrative. This is a must read, but be warned: once you pick it up, you'll keep coming back to it until you're finished.

  • By Craig Wood on May 23, 2016

    "Gang of One" is an engaging first-person account of life in China during and immediately after the Cultural Revolution. Fan Shen was a student in Beijing in 1966 when Mao Zedong initiated the ill-fated program to remove counter-revolutionary elements of Chinese society. Initially swept up with enthusiasm, the author quickly became disillusioned with the movement, recognizing the damage that the revolution was causing.The book covers about 20 years of the author's life, in a chronological and easy-to-follow narrative. The stories and anecdotes are colorful, to put it mildly. With a strong work ethic, infinite patience, and incredible perseverance, Fan Shen overcame a series of obstacles and restrictions before we could finally emigrate to the US in the mid-1980s.Like any well written autobiography, "Gang of One" is told with humility and humor. Shen shares many highs and lows in his journey through a tumultuous life under China's Communist regime. And he's not afraid to embellish in his story-telling -- coincidental encounters that span years and miles provide a thread of continuity to characters throughout the book.Finding patterns and perspective in history is made easier when there are many voices to tell the story. Fan Shen's contribution is the account of one man's journey through dark but important years in the 20th century. Our understanding of how events unfolded during these years, and how ordinary citizens learned to cope, is strengthened thanks to Fan Shen's autobiographical work.

  • By A customer on February 15, 2004

    I enjoyed the personal account of the cultural revolution. The authors first hand description of the trials endured in his quest to freedom was very interesting. A well written book and an excellent read.

  • By Shawn Otto on May 22, 2008

    This is quite simply the best memoir I have ever read, and as a professional writer myself, I've read a lot of them. It deserves to be considered in a class with America's greatest storytelling.Fan Shen writes in an understated, no-holds-barred, external style that is in some ways reminiscent of his literary heroes: London and Stendhal, to name two. Like Martin Eden and The Red and the Black, this is a story of the struggle of the individual against the system. And what a struggle! No slow internal musing over small questions here - this is a pedal-to-the-metal ride through China's bloodiest and most oppressive modern period, told in one shocking life event after another, and emotions bend all the more powerfully by racing to keep up.With increasing personal, moral, and ethical risks as Fan struggles to develop an individual identity and freedom from oppression in a country where individualism is anti-revolutionary and a capital offense, this is a page-turner that you may never forget - with a beautiful love story at its heart.

  • By pingpong on January 2, 2012

    After five years since I read this book, I still think about it. Over the years I have given many copies of it to friends. And five years later I am thinking maybe I should buy another one for myself and reread it. It's that good.


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