I have long been intrigued by the China I have met through fiction, from Nobel Prize Winning Novelist Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth, to John Hersey’s A Single Pebble and Jung Chang’s Wild Swans, as distinguished examples. And now I have discovered a new book to add to my growing list of favourites: Sylvia Vetta’s Brushstrokes in Time, recently published by Claret Press.
This is the story of Little Winter, a fictional member of what was the Star Arts Movement, a real and important part of the short-lived experiment in China between 1976 and 79 in freedom of expression in the arts. Vetta gives us an engaging heroine, who rises above oppression and loss of children and husband, to discover in the end both love and artistic success. We see her endure forced labour, imprisoned as a dissident, undergo ‘re-education’ and finally rescued by an American foundation. Her sufferings genuinely reflect those of many of the real members of the Stars, such as Wei Wei, listed in her book.
How realistic can Chinese experience be when reflected through the lens of a Westerner? That must depend on how familiar said Westerner is with Chinese culture. Hersey, for example, was born and brought up in China; and Vetta knows present-day China well, has many Chinese friends. This book is endorsed by specialists, with a foreword by Professor Maria Jaschok of Oxford University, testifying to its authenticity. So as a picture of life in China in mid to late twentieth century this may be trusted.
I really enjoyed reading this book, not least because the structure allows the reader to know that the miseries our heroine must suffer through will eventually come to an end. Harrowing, yes, but also uplifting. Definitely recommended.