Like everyone else in the US and in the world, for that matter, I was gripped by the story of Abu Ghraib in 2004 and 2005, the shocking photos of torture and abuse that were being released…. which “inspired” the Chinese media to publish many stories of the much more “humane” treatment of American POWs during the Korean War, which, in turn, inspired a keen interest in me on the subject. As I dug into the history, as written and told and retold by both the Chinese and Americans, the idea of Twin-Sun River: An American POW in China began to shape up.
Twin-Sun River tells the story of Pfc Simon Mackenzie who chooses to disappear in the heartland of China to chase his “Walden” or “Peach Orchard Outside the World” dream soon after the armistice was effected. There, in a small mountain village, Simon’s decision is tested over and again as he struggles to survive a big flood, the Great Leap Forward, the Famine, and finally, the Cultural Revolution, all the way till Nixon's visit to China, and as he becomes enmeshed in the life of a Chinese family and their beautiful “widowed” daughter-in-law.
Parallel to Simon’s journey is that of Jie Ding, a humanities professor who traverses the changing landscape of China during the summer of 2001 to accomplish an impossible mission while trying to exorcise his own demons: his marital problems and the haunting memories of the Cultural Revolution.
The two journeys “crisscross” and finally converge on the Twin-Sun River glimmering under the early fall sky.
This novel is not only inspired by real historical events, but also by my own life experiences in China. Born in the year of the “Great Leap Forward” (1957), just in time to be hit by the Famine (1960-63), and soon to watch my father, principal of a rural middle school, being brutalized by the Red Guards during the "Cultural Revolution" (1966-1976), working on the novel, oftentimes, is not unlike submersing myself again in deep, scarred memories.
In 2008 the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (New York Chapter) sponsored a staged reading of the screenplay I wrote based on the story (my gratitude also to Louisa Burns-Bisogno, Pam McDaniel, Ellen Muir, Ma-Yi Theatre Company). In 2009 a three-act play based on the story was staged by Shanghai Theater Academy (directed by Tong Ruimin).