An observer of China gives us a historical novel that takes us on a journey from the rise of Mao Zedong in 1949 to the Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989, as a father and his son are swept away by a relentless series of devastating events.
For those who want a close-up portrait of a complex society with a rich history and plenty of contradictions, My Old Home is an excellent place to begin ... My Old Home takes place in urban and rural China, and also in San Francisco, where Li lives as an exile and suffers the discomforts of nearly all exiles. One reviewer described the novel as didactic and rather plotless ... As an American, Schell knows the reading public in the U.S. As a longtime scholar of Chinese society, he’s familiar with a culture that has often struck Americans as exotic and strange ... Schell is to be congratulated for branching out and writing a gripping novel with believable characters and a strong sense of Chinese places. Some of the writing, especially at the end, is inspired and inspiring. It might sweep readers up and carry them into a colorful pageant with the clash of rival forces and seductive ideas.
This gripping if occasionally didactic debut novel by Schell touches on the personal and the political in 20th-century China ... despite the novel’s many charms and Schell’s lush lyrical descriptions, the patchwork of anecdotes doesn’t add up to much of a plot, and frequent asides on Chinese history and culture interrupt the narrative. Still, readers may find the rollicking ride worth the lecture, and there’s no denying the riveting subject matter.
Schell's sweeping historical epic charts the coming-of-age of a young Chinese man in his search for identity, belonging, and love across two continents ... Schell similarly renders Little Li’s beloved works of classical music with such tender specificity that the pages almost sing. At times, however, the main characters’ lives appear to be the background against which history unfolds rather than the other way around, perhaps owing to Schell’s long career as a journalist and historian. Readers will emerge from the novel with keen insights into China's struggle to determine its political, economic, and cultural identity. However, they also may be left without a clear sense of who Little Li really is, despite journeying with him for more than 600 pages. An ambitious journey through history that captivates with its spectacular scenery.