Monday, May 16, 2016

Review: Looking East by Jacqueline Dreager

Title: Looking East 
Author: Jacqueline Dreager
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Sierra Press
Publish Date: March 6, 2016
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "In 1912 Guangxi Provence, nine year old Guoshi Mo experienced two life altering events: his pigtail was chopped off and subsequently he was betrothed to a little girl his own age simply named, Sister 13. Guoshi, an exemplary student, was dead set against this type of arrangement and would spend most of his life fighting to right the wrongs of feudalism and corruption.

Changing his name from Guoshi Mo to James Mo, he sailed from Shanghai to New York City in 1920 to work for the American Communist Party. He met and fell in love with Celia Edelson, a Young Pioneer from the communist youth division. Considered an agitator by The New York Times, Comrade James Mo was on the FBI list of suspicious individuals and was spirited out of New York to the Soviet Union, leaving behind his beloved Celia. Within one year she would join him in Moscow to live at the infamous Lux, the hotel that housed German, Russian and Chinese exiles. In 1933 Celia became pregnant and was sent back to the United States by the Communist Party while James continued his studies at the Lenin Institute in Moscow.

In April 1934 Celia's baby is born in Cleveland Ohio. That same year Celia hears rumblings of James affair with a Ukrainian woman he met in Moscow. Celia, resentful and bitter, cuts off communication with the father of her child. Comrade James Mo marries, has a son and is subsequently arrested and imprisoned at two Moscow prisons, Lubianka, prison of death and Butyrka prison for deceiving the Party and lying about being born into a landowning family of intellectuals.

One hundred prisoners, including James, were escorted by train to a labor camp in the Siberian tundra where he would remain for eighteen years, felling trees, making bricks and patrolling an oil pipeline. Never having met his American daughter, Victoria, he would search for her for a dozen years upon his release from the Siberian Gulag."

My Two Cents:

"Looking East" is the story of James, a member of the Chinese Communist Party, and Celia, an American with a Russian family who joins the Communist Party in the United States. They meet in the United States and their love affair will set the tone for the book. The story focuses much more on James and his journey as a young man, then in America, then in the gulag.

James and Celia were both real people and the author draws heavily on actual memories and writings of their daughter, Victoria. In one way, this makes many of the characters feel real but in another way, it also makes the narrative suffer from an abundance of telling rather than showing. It can sometimes be detrimental to have too much detail. The reader needs room to create some of the book's world itself but with all of the description, the ability to do that was extremely limited. The added telling added a choppy feel to the book. Some sections were very good only to be overcome by too much extra information, which took me out of the book. I think the book could have been way more streamlined.

That being said, what kept me reading is the story line. James truly had a fascinating life and it is plain to see why the author wanted to tell his story through this historical fiction book. This book had so many of the factors that I look for in a book: exotic locales, interesting characters, and exotic locales. Overall, the characters need to be able to breathe and connect with the audience. Some of this was stymied here but the story itself pulls you in.



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