“Growing up poor in China during the seventies, I would do anything for a good meal, but I would do even more for a book. Books were a luxury that we often had to hand-copy. Ironic that I should love to read in the book desert China was then. I wanted to read because I was a storyteller even as a little lad,” writes Da Chen, author of Colors of the Mountain and Sounds of the River. He recounts how a small bookstore, inside a hut, opened up on the outskirts of his village. It cost one fen to rent a book — an amount that his family, living in poverty, could not afford. So Chen and his friends became resourceful, selling whatever items they could find around the village and looking for lost change, to be able to rent books. One of Chen’s favorite books was The Count of Monte Cristo. Sadly a Communist party member torched the bookstore reduced all those literary treasures into a heap of dust. “The party secretary took the books away from us,” writes Chen, “but not the seeds those fine seeds had sown. The deprivation didn’t stop our thirst for books, it only heightened it. Whenever there was a book in circulation among the villagers, we would rip it apart and hand-copy each chapter, and within days a new book would exist.” Years later after earning a law degree from Columbia University and working at an investment bank, Chen reflected back on his childhood and felt compelled to write about his childhood, his “childhood of deprivation.” “One of my silent dreams was to write books so no one could take them away from me,” he shares.
Chen concludes: “Writers write for various reasons. I write because my heart demands so. There is so much freedom in the simple act of sitting there, holding up my hands, waiting to pound on the computer keyboard, waiting for words to pour from the tips of my fingers and compose the melody of life from the faded tapestry of my past. That craving for freedom came from a deep princedom in my childhood, where a book was gold and a dream was but to hold it in your lap on a dreary Saturday afternoon, in that forgotten village far away, near the end of this earth.”
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For further Reading: The Book That Changed My Life edited by Roxanne Coady and Joy Johannessen