If you love multigenerational historical novels, the kind that invoke profound and simultaneous sensations of sadness, regret, and compassion or which bring to light uncomfortable truths about ourselves, our objects of love, our innermost desires, then Lost in the Long March is for you.
At first pass, Lost in the Long March did not grip me; the first few chapters were interesting, but did not give a clue to the deeper nuances that would come later. I am glad I persevered and read on; I was rewarded. By the last page I was very nearly in tears. There is deep heart-wrenching pain in this novel, the kind that is brought on by very common, mundane processes, in this case, the heartbreak of being a parent, the heart ache for the love of one’s child.
Wang’s novel is about the banal horrors of war; not the violence of combat, but the long arm of suffering that extends beyond the battlefield, long after the skirmish is over, when the victor is fooled by the passing of time into believing that they have won. They have not. Lost in the Long March revolves around the conflicts of the Chinese Civil War between the Kuomintang and the Communists (the Long March occurred in 1934-1935) and the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945); but this is really a novel about compassion and humanity and the ways in which wars and political movements can destroy them or create situations for their manifestation. Friendship, love, connection, loyalty — the interconnections between people — this is the core of this novel.
It is Wang’s unwavering focus on this universal core of the human experience which makes the novel so powerful, so moving, so profound. Wang’s prose delivers the message with perfect pacing and with ease; the prose is succinct, but the words and the silences Wang leaves between them could cut open a vein with deadly accuracy. On occasion, it took this reader a moment or two to feel the new wound, so sharply and subtly were the words and their meaning delivered. By the time I reached the end of the novel, as Wang came to the story’s inevitable end, I was unsure if I could survive it. I will not give the ending away, but I will say that it did leave this reader in a state of metaphorical exsanguination.
Lost in the Long March is well-worth the grief. As with many good books, it is the heavy sense of loss they inflict which is the reader’s gain.