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Twin-Sun River: An American POW in China
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Paperback
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BOOK DETAILS

  • Paperback
  • Aug.10.2011
  • 9780983875307

Shouhua gives an overview of the book:

 “Turncoats” and “Diabolic Brainwashing” are among the headlines that met the 21 young American GIs who refused repatriation when the armistice was signed to end the Korean War (1950-53) and chose to go to Red China. Hollywood films such as “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962) didn’t help ease the frenzy over the perceived Communist diabolism either. For a long time no one knows what life behind the “Bamboo Curtain” was really like for those “21 Turncoats” who had turned their backs on their motherland.   “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...
Read full overview »

 “Turncoats” and “Diabolic Brainwashing” are among the headlines that met the 21 young American GIs who refused repatriation when the armistice was signed to end the Korean War (1950-53) and chose to go to Red China. Hollywood films such as “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962) didn’t help ease the frenzy over the perceived Communist diabolism either. For a long time no one knows what life behind the “Bamboo Curtain” was really like for those “21 Turncoats” who had turned their backs on their motherland.

 

“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 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.

Read an excerpt »

2

 

 

Ding, Tom, and his wife Dora had been eating and chatting and sipping dark beer around the dinner table for more than an hour now. Ding had relished two bowls of chili, a salad, and a large turkey sandwich. The chili tasted almost as good as his favorite spicy Three Delights seafood soup.

The dining room was not big, but could sit a family of eight or ten comfortably. The electric range, the black oven, and the cherry cabinets looked passé, but clean. The décor in the living room was minimal. The wood-burning fireplace, wicker chairs, antique-looking lamps, and faded wallpaper gave the place a cozy, safe kind of feel. On the wall along the stairway leading upstairs were mounted several framed black and white family portraits. The entire place had an odor of tobacco that had not completely vaporized, of memories, flimsy, ineffable, of people who had sat at this same dinner table recently and a long, long time ago.

Whenever there was a pause in the small talk, Ding could feel the whole house buzz urgently, incessantly.

“It’s the wind, Jie,” Tom chuckled. “At this height, it never quits, and it can get real nasty sometimes, I assure you.”

A “Wuthering Heights of American make!” comment was on the tip of his tongue. Ding washed it down with another sip from the bottle. 

“Jie, sounds exactly like Jay, but it’s J-i-e, right?” Dora smiled. The pair of large teardrop earrings with crystal beads glinted as she reached over to clear away the empty plates. Dora’s hair had gone silver, but still had a few streaks of iron gray.

Ding nodded. “I like to keep it that way. Somehow.”

Tom gave his wife a “What did I tell you, uh?” look. “I respect that,” he said.

Tom’s parents had built the house with their own hands soon after they got married. It was their dream house. They brought up their three sons and a daughter here. Tom, the first-born of the siblings, bought the house from his parents when they moved, reluctantly, to a nursing home over ten years ago, where the old man died of a stroke not long after and his wife followed soon. Tom’s children, all grown up and married with children, were scattered all over the country, east coast and west coast.

“None of them even pretends to be interested in this old house,” Dora interjected with a sigh when she came back from the kitchen.

Ding told them a bit of his family, too, his parents, his sister, his wife and his daughter.

“I’m really sorry about your father,” Dora said, misty-eyed.

Ding lowered his gaze. A dull pain swept over him again. “At least I had a chance to show him around when he and my mother came to visit in 1998. Believe it or not, he even had a picture taken with Bill Clinton.”

“He did not?” Tom exclaimed incredulously. “Bill Clinton! You’ll have to excuse me for saying it, but I wouldn’t shake the hand of that draft-dodger, intern f—, you know what, even if he’d let me sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom for free!”

“Shame on you, Tommy,” protested Dora. “What’s wrong with Bill Clinton? Cut the man some slacks, will you?”

“Not Clinton in person,” Ding smiled. He felt embarrassed by how passionate people could still get about the former president more than a year after he had vacated the office. “It’s only one of those cardboards—you must have seen one of those?—on the top level of the World Trade Center in New York. My father really liked the photo, though.”

 “Oh,” the old man enthused. “If we had known you then, we could have asked Harry, our grandson, to give your folks a guided tour. He works for an investment management company there. Hired before he even graduated from Wharton.”

Ding nodded. He was impressed. He thought of Rob, the tall, pale-faced young man, his torn baggy pants, shoulder-length wavy hair, and smiled.

There was a long pause, as if they each were pursuing a private thought of their own. 

“Want another beer?” the old man said, looking up.

Ding eyed the half-empty bottle in hand. “No. . . thanks. I’m the only designated driver tonight, you know.”

Tom and Dora chuckled.

“Let me show you something, then, Jie,” Tom stood up and said.

“You sure, hon?” Dora looked up from her chair, searched in the face of her husband—who shrugged—and turned to Ding with a resigned look in her eyes.

 

Tom breathed audibly as he led the way down the long staircase winding to the basement. The light was dim, the air dank, musty.

Ding wondered what Tom had to show him as he followed the old man navigating through old sofas, dressers, tables, chairs, bikes, boxes, lawn tools, and a thousand other things randomly piled on top of each other, almost touching the ceiling of loosely fit fiberglass-batts.

“When you’ve lived to my age,” Tom coughed, “between inheriting and emptying your wallet senselessly, you’ll be buried in just as much junk, if not more.”

“I know,” Ding offered his sympathy. Who in America can I inherit from anyway?  

Tom pulled a string hanging from the ceiling at the far corner of the basement. A bright light came on. 

In the well-lit corner was an area the size of a small office, which featured a table, two chairs, a small TV set with a VCR, an IBM computer, a fax machine, and an old-fashioned rotary phone. On the L-shaped brick walls were posted browned newspaper clippings. A third wall was made of two bookshelves loaded with folders and bags and a pile of overstuffed computer paper boxes.

An oasis of order in a world of apparent chaos and neglect. A mini-command center for some secret operations? Ding was intrigued. 

On the brick wall of the “command center” was a big photo of a uniformed young man on the front page of a newspaper whose name was only too familiar. The headline read:

 

Native Son Yet to Return Home

 

“My kid brother,” the old man said. “Isn’t he handsome?”

The young man in the picture looked no more than 20 years old. He grinned happily to whoever was taking the picture. Ding sensed something else in the young man’s deep-set eyes, something he couldn’t put his finger on. A kind of intensity. A glimmer of some ardent emotion that could still burst to flames despite the best effort to extinguish it. Anger, perhaps.

Other headlines from the local paper and the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal caught Ding’s eye, too:

 

American Boys Refuse To Come Home

21 Turncoats

Diabolic Brainwashing Suspected

 

All of the clippings, browned by the smoldering fire of time, looked so brittle that at the mere touch of a finger they would all peel off and drift down in ashen pieces. Next to the fax machine on the table were a few folders; the one on the top, the thinnest, had Ding’s name on it. Somebody has indeed started a file on me! Ding was surprised. 

“Oh, that,” Tom lowered his voice, confidentially, “is classified information.” Noticing the look in Ding’s face, he laughed. “Just kidding. Nothing but a clipping of your masterpiece.”

“For a moment I thought—” 

The old man picked up a faded burgundy photo album and opened it.

“See?” He pointed at a large family portrait on the first page. Despite the encroaching dirty yellow all around its edges the picture still looked sharp enough. “That’s my parents, my two brothers, me, and my sister.”

As Tom turned the pages of the album, the story of his family, and of his kid brother, unfolded slowly.

Dora lumbered down once with coffee and tea, but both the narrator and his audience were so engrossed in the story that neither touched his cup on the table.

By the time they finished, sort of, and started to climb back to the first floor, it was already past midnight.

 

Ding was still dazed as he drove back home. When he finally pulled into the garage, Ding shut the engine and sat in the car for a few long seconds before picking up a super-sized manila envelope from the passenger seat.

He didn’t turn on the light. He knew where everything was at home. His eyes having adjusted, he found his way upstairs. Passing Emily’s room he noticed light coming from under her door. A muffled sound of drums and pieces of heavy metal colliding into each other in a maddening rhythm slithered through. He knocked on the door gently and walked on. Kids nowadays. Why don’t they listen to music?

The door of his study was half open. He walked in and dropped the manila envelope on the writing desk. He stood there, as if undecided, then pulled open a bottom drawer, and stuffed the envelope in.

In the dimness of night he could make out the shape of his wife under the quilt. It stirred and became motionless again. He undressed slowly, lifted his side of the quilt and slipped in quietly.

Julie turned in her sleep and placed her smooth, warm naked leg across his thighs. He let it stay there without moving, until Julie withdrew the leg and turned to her side of the bed again.

 

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About Shouhua

Born in the year of the "Great Leap Forward" ("Backward")/Grew up during the "Three Years of Natural Disaster" (the Famine) and the "Cultural Revolution"/Came to the US in the spring of 1989...."the abrasive juxtaposition" of life experiences has made who he is. And he...

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Author's Publishing Notes

The book is available in both paperback and kindle editions.