Apologies Forthcoming by Xujun Eberlein, Livingston Press 2008, 141 pp.
The author of this short story collection is smart, articulate, and fearless. She is one of my new heroines--having grown up in the turmoil of China in the 70s and 80s, she moved the US in 1988 and achieved a PhD from MIT, but she didn't stop there; she has used her fine talents in English to bring immediacy to the stories of individuals caught up in the turmoil during and after China's Cultural Revolution. She dares to let her characters show the emptiness of this historic period—showing rather than telling--how people became unmoored from their own humanity.
In Apologies Forthcoming, eight stories bring forth episodes about human beings struggling with the twists and turns of love, friendship, education, earning a living, forging family relationships, all against a background of toxic politics. Anyone could become an enemy, a friend, a betrayer, a trickster. Notions of “right” and “wrong” were torn apart and set adrift, but as years passed, enemies could become friends again and victims could triumph. But “right” and “wrong” might never be the same again.
There is a genre of literature of first-hand accounts of sadness, unfairness and loss from China especially in the 1960s and 1970s and even into the 1980s which tend to be (perhaps unavoidably) one-sided tales of woe, sometimes called "victim literature. This book is NOT victim literature. Apologies Forthcoming fills out more of the complexity of that period of time by exposing how individuals could succumb to a pervasive amorality and yet could often reverse this process. Things are not simple black or white; life is a blend of gray areas punctuated by cruelty as well as the triumph of the human spirit.
According to her self-description, Xujun Eberlein "left algorithms for writing." I believe we are the beneficiaries of that decision. No doubt she will continue to expand and fine-tune her writing. I hope to read more of her work soon.