REVOLUTION IS NOT A DINNER PARTY; Ying Chang Compestine; New York: Henry Holt, 2007, 248 pages. Fiction
The title for Ms. Compestine's first novel for children is taken from a quote by Chairman Mao: "A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another." And, in fact, all the niceties of civilized life are done away in China under Mao, as we learn in this new book based on Ms. Compestine's own experiences as a young girl in China. For middle-grade school children, this may be a mystifying story--why would Ling's father, a skilled surgeon, be taken from the operating theater and forced to work as a night janitor? Why should Ling's neighbors and friends be jailed because they have read books from England or America? What kind of school would study only from one book--the Little Red Book of Chairman Mao? Young people who have never heard of the Red Guard or the Gang of Four will learn plenty from this short novel about the cruelty and irrationality of life in Communist China. Ling is a feisty and sympathetic protagonist--her parents fears for her and themselves are chillingly portrayed, and the book is well-written and difficult to set aside, once begun. Revolution is Not a Dinner Party of necessity has some brutal scenes, and should probably be shared with older children. It might be well, also, for children to read the historical note at the back of the book before they begin the novel, in order to better understand what is going on.