‘The Boat to Redemption’ is a novel by the author Su Tong, who explores grey areas during the time of the Chinese Cultural Revolution of disloyalty, shame and self repression (to list a few). It was one of the novels that I was required to read as part of the Chinese course that I am currently taking and so I took it upon myself to read it during summer to prepare me for the work to come. We were set a task to summarise the plot in a minimum of 300 words, but I’m not sure if anyone else go the memo (quite literally since we have a new teacher in charge of languages at my college). I made sure that I wrote a summary anyway, so I invite you to take a read and see what you think of the story.
The novel focuses on the stages of childhood to adulthood of the central character, Ku Dongliang in narrative a style that is similar to The Catcher in the Rye. He goes through life with a careless attitude, which results in him being nicknamed ‘Kongpi’ which can be translated into ‘empty’. The novel is centered on how Dongliang faces his ordeals of living with his controlling father, living a mundane life on the barges, and creating chaos whenever he visits land. The male protagonist narrates in a Romantic style, particularly when describing Huixian who he calls his ‘Sunflower’, which is similar to the narrative voice of Nick Carraway from the Great Gatsby. Their personalities also share similar traits as they both lack confidence and have voyeuristic tendencies that they develop in different ways.
After an investigation concluding that Dongliang’s father was not the son of the revolutionary Martyr Deng Shaoxiang, the Ku family bloodline is tainted and Secretary Ku (Dongliang’s father) is banished from the political party to live at sea. Dongliang chooses to go with his father to live on the barges and leaves his mother on land, where she often sends him letters that he chooses not to reply to.
He later meets the central female character of the novel Huixian as she is abandoned on the ship in her infancy. From then on, members of the barges who had competed to become her surrogate parents bring her up, and Dongliang keeps a diary to record her developments. Dongliang becomes engrossed in compiling the diary with rumours related to Huixian, who she has talked to, what she has worn, as well as some fabricated truths. Eventually Huixian leaves the barges and becomes the lead in a parade with the role of ‘Little Tiemei’, and subsequently gains the affection and attention of people across China. As a result of this, Huixian is taken in by high-ranking officials and is on the path to a secure future and a promising life. However Huixian cannot maintain the image she was once known for of being Little Tiemei and distinguishes herself from her role by changing her appearance and becoming more liberal in her personality. This does not bode well with the officials taking her under their wing and after a few arguments; Huixian is ‘hung out’ and takes refuge in a Barbershop where she becomes an employee. After hearing news of Huixian’s demise, Dongliang makes frequent visits to the barbershop where she works so that he can gain the courage to talk to her, and see if the ‘sunflower’ can reciprocate the love felt by the ‘gourd’ (creative metaphor employed towards the end of Dongliang’s diary compilation). Towards the end of the novel there are new findings in the investigation into the Ku family line, which cause more problems for Dongliang and his now ill father. Dongliang goes to great measures to save his father’s pride in a bid to rescue him from imminent death; however at the end of the story his father commits suicide by drowning with the memorial plaque of Dengshaoxiang held to his chest. The novel then ends with Dongliang being banned from returning to land.
Now that you’ve read the summary what did you think? Another book that I have read is ‘Wild Swans’ by Jung Chang which I personally found more enjoyable (I can try and discuss that another time).
If you ever need to read a novel that isn’t particularly to your taste and then write a summary; good luck 世界!!
从欣妍 – From Xinyan.
29th May 15: Re-reading the summary I wrote again makes me feel quite proud of what I produced in a short space of time 哈哈你同意呢 The novel was a struggle to complete due to the central theme of the narrative, but after reading it a second time and conducting some research I was able to consider deeper meanings of certain episodes I had initially dismissed as absurd. I have already sat my cultural exam (which includes the Literature paper) so hopefully my script is reflective of my efforts, 祝我好运.