No Wall Too High by Xu Hongci and Erling Hoh (Translator)

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No Wall Too High by Xu Hongci and Erling Hoh (Translator)

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Category: History
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: Moving and harrowing, Xu Hongci takes the reader on a journey through Mao's regime, inspiring with his constant drive to survive, escape, and live.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: February 2017
Publisher: Rider Books
ISBN: 978-1846044960

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It was one of the greatest prison breaks of all time, during one of the worst totalitarian tragedies of the 20th Century. Xu Hongci was an ordinary medical student when he was incarcerated under Mao's regime and forced to spend years of his youth in some of China's most brutal labour camps. Three times he tried to escape. And three times he failed. But, determined, he eventually broke free, travelling the length of China, across the Gobi desert, and into Mongolia.

Xu Hongci was a Chinese author, and published his memoir over there prior to his death in 2008. Translator Erling Hoh, a Swedish-Chinese journalist, came across a copy of the memoir in a Hong Kong library. Intrigued by the story, he tracked down the publisher, and eventually Xu Hongci's wife and children, obtaining an original manuscript that contained far richer content than the original Chinese edition, and allowed Erling Hoh to create No Wall Too High – a book which takes the reader on a turbulent and fraught journey of capture, escape, evasion, survival and love. Translated with immense skill and talent, it's a thrilling read.

I have to admit that books like this are not something I've read a huge amount of until the last year or so – when I read a copy of In Order to Live by Park Yeon-mi, about escape from North Korea, and followed this up by reading First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung – a chilling depiction of the tyranny of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge – a book that really shaped my experience whilst in Cambodia last year. As a result, I had some idea of what to expect from this book – but knew little about Mao's regime and labour camps, so ended up finding it an enlightening and eye-opening experience, educating whilst still being utterly harrowing.

The thing that makes this stand apart from other books of survival on the market, is the journey that Xu Hongci takes in this book.. A brave, noble and intelligent man, Xu placed his faith in Mao's ideas as a teenager – a faith which he soon found broken as Mao's regime truly took hold. Expressing his dissatisfaction, Xu soon found himself to one of Mao's laogai – a work camp based on the Soviet Gulags. Enduring 14 years in the camps, Xu remained unbroken – breaking out of the camps three times, only to be swiftly recaptured and taken back to the camp. Finally escaping for good, Xu escaped to Mongolia where he soon fell in love and married – writing his story down and living a good life until his death in 2008. This is his story – but also the story of a country that, in many places, was brought to its knees by an autocrat whose harsh policies led him to, many believe, be one of the worst dictators in history – with between 40-70 million deaths due to imprisonment, starvation and executions during his tenure. It's a story of strength, desperation, growth and hope – and it inspires as much as it horrifies.

The effectiveness is in part due to the use of language – Erling Hoh is no mere translator, but someone who has crafted Xu Hongci's words into moments and phrases that stick with the reader – allowing Xu Hongci's voice to come through in an immensely relatable way, reaching out to the reader and imploring them to listen to this hugely important tale. I'm glad I did – and I've no doubt you will be too. Many thanks to the publishers for the copy.

For further reading I recommend Disfigured: A Saudi Woman's Story of Triumph over Violence by Rania Al-Baz – another strong account by a survivor – couragous and brave, Rania's journey is very different to that of Xu Hongci, but the drive to survive and inform others are very similar indeed.

Buy No Wall Too High by Xu Hongci and Erling Hoh (Translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy No Wall Too High by Xu Hongci and Erling Hoh (Translator) at Amazon.co.uk


Buy No Wall Too High by Xu Hongci and Erling Hoh (Translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy No Wall Too High by Xu Hongci and Erling Hoh (Translator) at Amazon.com.

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