A Story of Growing up
A memoir of growing up in modern China from the Orange-shortlisted and Granta Best Young British Novelist.
*Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award*
*Shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award*
*Shortlisted for the Jhalak Prize*
*Shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize 2018*
*A Sunday Times Book of the Year*
Xiaolu Guo meets her parents for the first time when she is almost seven. They are strangers to her.
When she is born in 1973, her parents hand her over to a childless peasant couple in the mountains. Aged two, and suffering from malnutrition on a diet of yam leaves, they leave Xiaolu with her illiterate grandparents in a fishing village on the East China Sea.
Once Upon a Time in the East takes Xiaolu from a run-down shack to film school in a rapidly changing Beijing, navigating the everyday peculiarity of modern China: censorship, underground art, Western boyfriends. In 2002 she leaves Beijing on a scholarship to study in Britain. Now, after a decade in Europe, her tale of East to West resonates with the insight that can only come from someone who is both an outsider and at home.
'This generation's Wild Swans' Daily Telegraph
“Stunning...This book will make your jaw drop, then clench in anger.”
Helen Brown, Telegraph
“Guo is rebellious, flamboyant and fundamentally optimistic...fascinating.”
Stuart Kelly, Scotland on Sunday
“Riveting...Guo is an angrier, bolder, more ambitious figure than her forebears.”
“Utterly compelling... She writes superbly about her struggle to escape the constraints of gender, poverty and state interference. This extraordinary memoir will enhance her burgeoning reputation.”
Ian Critchley, Sunday Times
“Aside from the fast-paced plot, this is most interesting for its probing portrayal of Guo’s ambivalent relationship with her homeland… An impressive feature of this moving and often exhilarating book is the brutality of her portrait of her parents.”
Lara Feigel, Financial Times
“This generation's Wild Swans”
“A new Wild Swans. A compelling memoir fit to sit alongside Jung Chang’s classic”
“This autobiography is her account of fiery, artistic defiance and a testament to the act of storytelling as a way to break the silence... Guo writes in the audacious, restless and fragmented prose that has become her imprint: a feverish style that can be as merciless as the world she portrays.”
Megan Walsh, New Statesman
“Guo's autobiography picks up almost precisely where Chang's [Wild Swans] left off - in 1978, when she is five - and guides us through the brutal industrialisation of a country in which Wild Swans remains a banned book. Guo's writing is more personal and poetic than Chang's crisp, scholarly prose - and more openly angry.”
“The life story of the young Chinese filmmaker and novelist Xiaolu Guo makes Cinderella’s seem bland… Don’t be deceived by the calmness of her prose, because you should feel for her… Her writing here is raw and powerful… I applaud her tale of survival, because it is one that lingers… night after night”
Rose George, Spectator
“Vivid and funny… [Once Upon a Time in the East] shows the rewards of listening to an unleashed voice remembering and speaking with full freedom”
Wall Steet Journal
“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… 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, Nudge
“If this tale were fiction, it would be unbelievable; as memoir it is inspiring.”
Emily Rhodes, Guardian