Illuminated Thoughts | Teen Ink

Illuminated Thoughts MAG

December 20, 2018
By jl637 DIAMOND, Livingston, New Jersey
jl637 DIAMOND, Livingston, New Jersey
72 articles 0 photos 16 comments

During the Cultural Revolution, millions of educated Chinese youth were forced to work in the countryside and learn from the peasantry. Mao believed that this would ultimately create a society where there was no gap between the urban and rural classes or laborers and intellectuals. Before he was evacuated, my father – at the time a student – smuggled several banned books with him, reading them secretly to pass the time.


My father bought me a copy of Anna Karenina

for my fourteenth birthday. That night, we spent countless hours

under the bloodless moon reading. Hunched like twin shadows over his

mahogany desk, we let the words seep into our skin like

freshly poured jasmine tea, the mint-new pages of my book soon

becoming creased

like the crinkled palms of his hands.


When my father was nine, he was plucked

from his family and sent to work in a straw-thatched village

where rice fields outnumbered people. Before he left,

he copied every last syllable of Anna Karenina

into dozens of notebooks, sneaking them with him

on his journey.


The only education my father received

was how to spend restless sunrises and

bone-aching sunsets toiling in the rice fields,

back bleeding raw in unforgiving winter winds

and scorching summer heat,

spine bent like an old book, dreams of attending university

withered to smoke.


On my fourteenth birthday, when my father

drifted to sleep after page 273 of Anna Karenina,

I kissed his cheek –

mottled with scars that remained long after the Revolution

had ended. He looked more content then

than he ever did awake, the rise and fall of his chest

as peaceful as a song.

I turned to page 274

and read for the both of us.

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