A truly remarkable novel about coming to see the world as it is, TIANANMEN SQUARE is the story of one girl’s life growing up in the China of the 1970s and 80s, as well as the story of the events in 1989 that give the novel its name: the hope and idealism of a generation of young students, their heroism and courage, and the price that some of them paid.
by Lai Wen
Swift Press, late 2024
(via Emily Randle Editorial & Literary)
It is Beijing in the 1970s, and Lai lives with her parents, grandmother and younger brother in a small flat in a working-class area. Her grandmother is a formidable figure – no-nonsense and uncompromising, but loving towards her granddaughter – while her ageing beauty of a mother snipes at her father, a sunken figure who has taken refuge in his work.
As she grows up, Lai comes to discern the realities of the country she lives is: an early encounter with the police haunts her for years; her father makes her see that his quietness is a reaction to experiences he has lived through; and an old bookseller subtly introduces her to ideas and novels that open her mind to different perspectives. But she also goes through what anyone goes through when young – the ebbs and flows of friendships; troubles and rewards at home and at school; and the first steps and missteps in love.
A gifted student, she is eventually given a scholarship to study at the prestigious Peking University; while there she meets new friends, and starts to get involved in the student protests that have been gathering speed. It is the late 1980s, and change is in the air…
This novel manages to balance both the sense of an individual girl growing up and going through all the changes that every young person goes through – falling in love, realising that grown-ups are people who make mistakes, reckoning with your own character – with the sense of growing up in the China of the time and the tragic events that give the book its title and its culmination.
Lai Wen is a pseudonym. She was born in Beijing in 1970 and left China in 1989 after the Tiananmen Square protests. She now lives in the UK with her husband and two children.