Once Upon a Time in the East by Xiaolu Guo

Review published on November 19, 2017.

Amongst the several books of this genre that I have read, this one does stand out especially well. The rags to riches stories abound globally, but this particular book is a seriously difficult book to put down. Xiaolu Guo was born in 1973 and given away to peasants, who, a couple of years later, realised they could not feed her. The poor, undernourished girl was then given to the paternal grandparents, and so begins her relentless search for an education and the wider world.

There is so much to contemplate in this story, the greater part of the tale is set within the Chinese world, where females are basically second class citizens, or they were, back in the Cultural Revolutionary years of Chairman Mao. Through sheer determination, she has luckily succeeded where many others have failed.

Xiaolu has written other books that have a wide readership; I expect this will be another one to join them. When her parents came to Britain to visit her, they left with a deep feeling of sadness at how we live here. Xiaolu writes so well that one can experience the very pathos they felt, this is clear all the way through the book though, this easily produces the overwhelming absorption one gets from the narrative.

From a mere child residing in a hovel, in some coastal fishing village in South China, she has become a first class icon almost. Now she is well educated, multi-lingual, extremely well read, well written, artistic, and a qualified film producer who also speaks very eloquently (interviews on YouTube). The book is a wonderful experience to read, one cannot help but be inspired, interested, and in awe of her accomplishments both in qualifications and her personal life. I take my hat off to her, excellent book from beginning to end, with barely a word wasted on hype and platitude as a dust-cover reviewer states.

Reg Seward 5/5

Once Upon a Time in the East by Xiaolu Guo
Chatto & Windus 9781784740672 hbk Jan 2017


The Low Voices by Manuel Rivas


Reading Group Guide: Munich by Robert Harris

You may also like