Shanghai 1965. Zheng Benfu, 15, is about to meet his
future wife, chosen by his traditional parents. He got in
a bit of hot water at school when he criticised Chairman
Mao's Great Leap Forward. On his way home, he meets an
old man who gives him an envelope and tells Benfu to come
to the same place every week until they can meet again.
Benfu is helpless as the old man is taken away by
government officials. When Benfu shows Pony Boy the
envelope, the latter opens it, and they cannot stop
themselves from looking inside, which will change a lot in
both their lives.
Benfu's family is well off, while Pony Boy, his best
friend, has a blue collar background; they border on
poor. The two friends don't even share the same opinions
on Chairman Mao, as Pony Boy sees Mao as China's saviour.
Benfu aspires to a musical career and not that of a
scholar as his parents wish. He hopes to be admitted to a
prestigious music school. Pony Boy had to leave school,
but he has his precious Japanese camera and loves to
capture everyday life. Life is not going so well, but in
1966, when the Great Proletariat Cultural revolution is
announced, things take a turn for the worst.
THE PALEST INK is positively enthralling! Without
weighting down the story, Ms. Bratt weaves the history of
modern China along with the coming of age of two teenage
boys. THE PALEST INK is told from the perspective of
Benfu and Pony Boy, but we also learn about China's past
from the Zhengs' cook. What a marvellous character she
is. The author's voice completely disappears, and it
truly reads as if I was experiencing history along with
those two boys and their families. The tone is just
right, young without ever sounding childish. The author
brings China to life in sharp details. It is beautifully
written, in a seamless and simple style, perfectly in
tune to the story and the characters.
THE PALEST INK is a beautiful, moving, gripping, mesmerising story of
ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances. It
is a story of bravery and honour, of love and compassion,
as well as growing up and taking chances. I had no idea
how it would all end, except that I cheated somewhat and
saw that it was a prequel to the Tales of the Scavenger's
Daughters series, and those books are definitely going on
my to-be-read-pile. THE PALEST INK is certainly the best
novel I have read about Maoist China; simply superb!
A sheltered son from an intellectual family in Shanghai,
Benfu spends 1966 anticipating a promising violinist career
and an arranged marriage. On the other side of town lives
Pony Boy, a member of a lower-class family—but Benfu’s best
friend all the same. Their futures look different but
guaranteed…until they’re faced with a perilous opportunity
to leave a mark on history.
At the announcement of China’s Cultural Revolution, Chairman
Mao’s Red Guard members begin their assault, leaving
innocent victims in their wake as they surge across the
country. With political turmoil at their door, both Benfu
and Pony Boy must face heart-wrenching decisions regarding
family, friendship, courage, and loyalty to their country
during one of the most chaotic periods in history.
The prequel to the beloved Tales of the Scavenger’s
Daughters series, The Palest Ink depicts Benfu’s
coming-of-age during the tumultuous years of the Cultural