A stirring, perceptive exploration of radical politics ... A sweeping portrait ... The Sisters Mao captures a particular moment in far-left politics, when Western supporters of the Soviet Union belatedly accepted the truth — that the USSR killed millions of innocents ... This excellent novel, populated by maddening, memorable characters, offers a timeless reminder of extremism's perils.
Here the voices are quieter, but McCrea creates a pungent idiom for Jiang that gives forceful life to her character ... Essentially, McCrea’s new book is a capacious work of social realism – appropriately enough, given its curiosity about the art produced in the final stages of communism. It is full-throated in its evocation of London in the 60s, but also attentive to psychological states ... [A] brilliant, psychedelic climax ... The strength of...these novels about moments of communist history is that he makes the visionaries he describes so wholly human ... McCrea evidently finds the communist vision compelling. This is partly because it yields such rewarding narrative materials, but what makes these novels really interesting is his underlying sympathy with the substance of the vision. He uses his feel for novelistic psychology and family dynamics to breathe rich life into the communist project ... [A] dazzlingly ambitious yet modestly human novel.
Compendious and surprising ... A novel steeped in theatricality ... McCrea evokes older cultural echoes to good effect ... George Bernard Shaw, whose ideas on the political relevance of art shadow The Sisters Mao – if not always to best effect: as Shavian characters have something of a fondness for political monologue, so too do figures in this novel tend towards loquacity. This is perhaps inevitable in a novel of such scale: with a weight of material to sift and illuminate, a degree of sagging must occur ... The China that emerges from the pages of The Sisters Mao is rather a stage upon which politics and cultural identity are explored with respect and insight. The historical Madame Mao was an arresting and complex figure: and the fictional Jiang of this novel is likewise a creation of some stature, and an indicator of the earnestness that McCrea has brought to the fraught task of cultural borrowing. That the English sisters are rather less compelling characters is perhaps the point ... In the world of The Sisters Mao, as in life itself, ideas flow ceaselessly and impact in ways unexpected and uncontrollable – and this conception of the world brings with it a degree of comfort, as well as fear.
The Sisters Mao almost feels like two books. One set of Gavin McCrea’s characters is shaped by personal concerns, the other, predominantly, by societal forces ... It is impeccably researched and he interweaves the personal and the political to great effect. But the novel is also uneven — by turns frustrating and inspiring — and could have been considerably shorter. Although some may consider his flawed, egotistical narrators nuanced, I found them irritating.
An ambitious if flawed dual narrative that probes the tensions between art and propaganda, family loyalty and revolutionary zeal ... McCrea writes insightfully about mother-daughter dynamics, the power of theater, and women’s roles in revolutionary movements, but lengthy depictions of myriad minor scenes in the Thurlow sisters’ lives sap the novel’s momentum. This is thought-provoking, though not McCrea’s best.