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Feather in the Storm : A Childhood Lost in Chaos

by ;
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  • Copyright: 2009-01-16
  • Publisher: Random House Inc
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Emily Wu's account of her childhood under Mao opens on her third birthday, as she meets her father for the first time in a concentration camp. A well-known academic, her father had been designated an "ultra-rightist" and class enemy. As a result, Wu's family would be torn apart and subjected to unending humiliation and abuse. Wu recounts this hidden holocaust in which millions of children and their families died. Feather in the Stormis an unforgettable story of the courage of one child in a quicksand world of endless terror. From the Trade Paperback edition.

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In the fourth winter of the famine I was returned to my family. It was the final week of January, a few days before the Lunar New Year. I was three and a half years old. We lived in a large house in Tianjin. I slept beside my grandmother in a bedroom on the first floor. My mother, father and three sisters slept in an adjoining room. On the floors above us lived the families of three uncles and aunts. Nine adults and twelve children shared the house. On my last morning in the house I was awakened before dawn by a gentle touch. Papa stood beside the bed, his finger to his lips to indicate that he did not want me to disturb Grandma. He carried me from the room and put me down on a stool in the corridor and then he gathered some of my clothing and my only toy-a doll-and put them in a bag. He helped me into my winter coat, tied my wool cap under my chin and wrapped a scarf around my neck. Finally, he helped me pull on my mittens and winter shoes. He put on his coat, picked up the bag of clothing and took my mittened hand in his. With hardly a sound, he unlatched the door, opened it just enough for us to squeeze through, and closed and locked it behind us. The morning was cold and quiet. The air was filled with snowflakes. The courtyard was buried beneath a blanket of new snow. When Papa noticed it was difficult for me to get a footing on the slippery cobblestones, he stooped and lifted me in his arms. As he straightened up, a light came on in the bedroom where I'd been sleeping with Grandma. There was a muffled cry-"Maomao!" I twisted in Papa's arms and was about to shout, "I'm here, Grandma." But Papa whispered, "Be quiet!" He hurried through the gate and out onto Happiness Lane. The anxious voice continued to call, "Maomao! Where are you?" Papa rushed down the lane. Two blocks from the house he stopped to catch his breath. I wrapped my arms around his neck and laid my head on his shoulder. We waited on the corner until a bus stopped for us. We rode silently through the sleeping city to the train station. After buying our tickets Papa carried me into a crowded concourse. I pulled his ear and asked, "Where are we going?" "I'm taking you home," he replied. "But we are home, Papa." He raised his finger to his lips. An abrupt restlessness in the crowd startled me. Several shrill blasts from a whistle were followed by commands to begin boarding. We were carried along as the bustling mass of people moved toward the platform. Papa held me tightly. When the crowd thinned he ran along the line of waiting cars watching in the windows for empty seats. After passing a dozen packed cars he bolted up the stairs into a car and hurried toward a single empty seat. A woman struggling with two big bags in one arm and a child in the other approached from the far end of the aisle. She snagged her bags on the back of a seat and stopped to pull them loose. Papa dropped into the vacant seat a few steps ahead of her. She looked around anxiously. A crowd converged on her from either end of the car and made an exit impossible. After catching his breath Papa rose and hoisted our bag onto an overhead shelf. Then he sat down and pulled me onto his knee. The woman next to us held a girl about my age. The girl's face was flushed and her nose was running. Her watery eyes remained fixed on me. An explosion of shouting and whistles sent people racing frantically back and forth across the platform. The cars shuddered and banged on their couplings. Those people standing in the aisles grabbed for overhead grips or the backs of seats as they tumbled against one another. Protests and cursing rose from one end of the car to the other. As we picked up speed the grumbling of disgruntled passengers faded to a low, st

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