Excerpt from The Communist's Daughter by Dennis Bock, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Communist's Daughter

by Dennis Bock

The Communist's Daughter
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2007, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2008, 304 pages

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The Communist's Daughter

It is my hope that your understanding will win out against any mistrust or anger you may harbour against me when you finally read this. It is so easy to feel anger, and Lord knows I deserve a good dose of it. But I am trying, and you will see I have been trying for quite some time. I also hope that you will read this many years from now, when you are grown, at a time when this story will be long past. With an adult’s eyes it is more likely that you will see this letter for what it is, and know the regret and tenderness I feel as I compose this history for you. Of course, I know I have no control over any of this, yet still I hope. The dead must relinquish so much.

Heaven forbid these pages return to you without me, but allowing for such a possibility I give you my word absolutely that I will recount my life as faithfully as I recall it, nothing added, nothing lost.

Will I be dead? That is certainly the way things seem to go around here, but it is not my intention to go off and die any time soon. You may also take some consolation in knowing that we Bethunes are fighters, first and foremost, and never go down without a mighty struggle. For a man nearing fifty I have got a good bit of life left in me.

The reality is that you have missed every word of the story I will tell, and I cannot change that fact. When such a small miracle as you awaited, I chose to look elsewhere for purpose. I chose to leave you behind, and that is the sadness in my life. I feel there is no adequate apology a father can offer his child for something like that, but it is my hope to tell you a little about the world as it was before you came into it, and about the terrible forces that pulled me away from you once you finally did. And to tell you why I came to this faraway country. One’s journey through life is fraught with contradictions and compromises. I see that now, and perhaps one day you will see it too.


There is a boy here in north China with me named Ho. You would like him. The plain truth is that nothing would get done around here without him. He is my vigilant sentry, my water boy, my trusted valet, my cook, my barber. He is the one who provides me with everything I need. When he saw the state of this typewriter ribbon (I had been using the old Remington portable to write up a number of medical reports) he dipped it in some oil he found dripping from the belly of a wounded generator hidden behind the hospital (which was, not so long ago, a Buddhist temple), and lo, by nightfall, it was set for another ten or fifteen pages. It has since become part of his morning ritual.

The reason I mention this so early on is that whatever it is that he puts into this customized ink of his reminds me of a perfume I once purchased for your mother in Madrid, before the war in China came to take me away. A whiff of lavender and mint that is my own Proustian delight. As I work, these keys release small shock waves of that perfume into the air, making this letter—for brief periods at least—an almost pleasant walk down memory lane. I imagine these additives, whatever they are, are meant only to suppress the oil’s natural foul composition, and perhaps to deepen the colour of the imprint of these letters. It works surprisingly well, I must say. Every morning I find the Remington stripped of its ribbon, and every morning Ho comes to me with my breakfast of millet or steamed rice and tea, his hands stained the same colour as these pages.


I do not have much idle time here, but what little there is I spend trying to make some sense of the fates that have shaped me into the man I am. I’ll admit to finding this quite a task. I often think about your mother and see now that she was not so unlike my own mother, how they shared a common desire to improve the world they lived in. I also think about who you will be when you finally read this. I like to imagine the glow of understanding that will light up your face as you move deeper into the history of your father’s people and your own miraculous beginning. And I like to imagine that I will soon be home to see you, that peace will descend upon us, that there will be no need for these writings other than to help recall the vicious events that took place before this war made things right.

Excerpted from The Communist's Daughter by Dennis Bock Copyright © 2007 by Dennis Bock. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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