Saturday, June 26, 2010

Book Review: Unbound

Title Unbound: A True Story of War, Love, and Survival
Author Dean King
Rating ****
Tags non-fiction, history, china, long march, women, communists 

When the Chinese Nationalists threatened to destroy the Communist forces in 1934, the Communists marched in several armies almos at 4000 miles. A force that began as 86,000 strong ended the march with under 10,000 left alive.

Unbound tells the story of 30 women, almost all of whom survived the entire march. Their stories personalize what was an incredible story of privation, death, and courage.

Americans have an allergy to almost anything about Communism. But this is a really worthwhile tale to read. Communists, like anyone else, are not all evil. So many became Communists because it promised equality to all. Certainly the life of a Chinese peasant was, as Thomas Hobbes said, "nasty, brutish, and short." The title of this book, indeed, is a reminder of one of the worst injustices against women, the crippling and painful binding of feet so that they were no more than 3 inches long. A few of the women marchers had bound feet. It is no wonder, then, that women were attracted to the promise of a more equal society. The women who survived became most of the women in China who had any real power after the Communist takeover. Some lost power or were killed in the Cultural Revolution of the 60s.

It is a tale of incredible hardship. There was starvation, the sheer physical exertion of walking so far. Some of the women were stretcher bearers for the wounded and sick. The march passed over very high mountains that brought on freezing and altitude sickness. Hardest of all is that a few of the women had babies and had to abandon them with a few coins and the hope that someone kind would find them and take care of them. And, of course, they were under constant threat and sometimes reality of attack by the Nationalists, who were the more brutal of the two sides.

The author traveled the entire march route, and by doing so, is able to tell the story with real feeling. Judge the visceral impact of the story by this: I was reading the book while having dinner at a restaurant. When my entree arrived, I had moments of sheer astonishment that such a bounty of food existed. Yet the author is also an academic and is detached enough to explain things that did not reflect well on the Communists as well as those that do. The book is a highly recommended work of history.

Publication Little, Brown and Company (2010), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 432 pages
Publication date 2010
ISBN 0316167088 / 9780316167086

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