The Good Women of China

by Xinran

{ 2002 | Pantheon | 256 pgs }

As the only nonfiction book I’ve read this year, The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices already stood out. But the author’s exceptional writing, in addition to her captivating subject matter, made the book unforgettable.

Xinran was a radio broadcaster in China during the 1980s and 1990s; she wrote The Good Women of China – which recounts some of the stories she collected through interviews on and off her radio program – after leaving the country. One of her goals was explore how Chinese women perceive themselves and their place in society, particularly at a time when social dynamics seemed to be rapidly changing. Most of the stories directly or indirectly involve the Cultural Revolution. Many are heartbreaking.

I admit I know relatively little about China, or Chinese culture and society. Xinran patiently explained so that I could follow along and understand (with the help of my great sociological mind) enough to form a mental framework in which to place her stories. The Good Women of China earns a strong recommendation from me, with a word of caution: this is not light, cheerful reading. The book contains mature themes and, in my opinion, requires a certain degree of solemnity from the reader.