There are few books out there that can bring out a plethora of emotions from a person. “”Colors of the Mountain”” is one of these rarities. Sadness and despair, hopefulness and joy result from the experience of reading this book. There are not enough words to describe the varying range of feelings evoked by this true story of a man’s childhood during a time of oppression.
“”Colors of the Mountain”” is the autobiography of Da Chen, a Chinese-American who grew up during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and ’70s. Chen focuses on his childhood, from the time he was eight years old until he was in his teens. Growing up in a country that despised his family because his sickly grandfather was successful in business before the Communist takeover in China, Chen and his family were forced to live in poverty. His father was imprisoned and forced to work in labor camps, leaving his mother as the sole breadwinner of the family. This was especially hard for a woman, considering the place and time. As the youngest of the children, there was little Chen could do to help.
This being the case, Chen focused all his energy on school and getting into the University of Beijing. As any Chinese student can tell you, the pressure to perform well academically is immense. The weight on his shoulders came not just from his family, but from himself. Chen’s sole desire was to bring his family out of poverty, and he viewed an education at the university as the way to achieve this. Blessed with an amazing mind and adamant will, Chen was successful in dragging himself from the despair that threatened to swallow him.
What is amazing about the book and about Chen is the way the story is conveyed to the reader. The Cultural Revolution in China is one of the worst examples of human depravity and sorrow. Yet Chen retells his coming-of-age not with anger-filled words and a mouth filled with spite, but with humor and humility.
Lisa See, author of “”On Gold Mountain,”” said it best when she praised the book. “”Born with the wretched political birthmark of being a landlord’s son, he has looked back at his life without cynicism or self-pity,”” See stated. “”‘Colors of the Mountain’ is a book of great dignity.””
“”Colors of the Mountain”” is not merely a coming-of-age memoir. It gives readers an unadulterated window into not only his past, but into China’s past as well. Readers can witness the cruelty of communist China, the mass paranoia of an entire population and the underlying human compassion that is buried beneath it all. It gives us the vantage point of living in poverty and depending on others to survive. And to witness Chen, as a boy, standing above it all and succeeding is quite humbling.
Reading the book was a cathartic experience for me, as I am sure it will be for anyone who picks it up and thumbs through the pages. At the time that I was reading the book, I was in dire straits, one might say. The book proved to be the remedy to my ailment. I found inspiration in the book and in Chen’s struggles to support his family and his education. Chen’s ability to look back at his past and simply smile is something I find amazing.
I highly recommend this autobiography to anyone, no matter his race, ethnicity or major. Despite our differences, there are some things that connect everyone: the will to succeed and the greatness of human achievement. “”Colors of the Mountains”” epitomizes these characteristics.
Those interested in Chinese history will also find this book of great interest. It provides a window into the recent history of the People’s Republic of China and the cultural revolution that shaped the nation. For those with interest in Chinese society, Chen gives a frank look at the traditional Chinese family and the values instilled in it. The importance of education, putting the family first and pride of achievement are all touched on in this moving book.
“”Colors of the Mountains”” offers a range of emotions. Like the Pilgrim in Dante’s “”Divine Comedy,”” Chen travels, emotionally and physically, from hell to heaven. The reader is likewise put on this roller coaster of feelings. Even the ending is bittersweet. I won’t ruin it for you, but I will mention that a friend who also read the book was crying her eyes out by the last page.