Monday, June 16, 2014

Leaving China (2014)

Leaving China: An Artist Paints His World War II Childhood. James McMullan. 2014. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 113 pages. [Source: Library]

I liked reading Leaving China: An Artist Paints His World War II Childhood by James McMullan. I liked the format of it especially. Each chapter consists of two pages: one page of text and an accompanying illustration or painting. Because of the format, the style, it isn't your traditional memoir.

I found this one very interesting. James McMullan was born in China in 1934, his parents were in business, his grandparents were missionaries. By providing some background and family history, readers catch a glimpse of China BEFORE the war, before they were invaded by the Japanese, before the conflict became a world war. And, of course, his narrative goes through the war itself. James and his parents managed to go to Shanghai. His father joined the British army. James and his mother traveled to the U.S. and then Canada where they remained for several years. Eventually both would end up back in Asia--first India and then Shanghai.

Each chapter is a memory. I liked how this collection of memories tells a larger story. I like how it is specific and yet universal. These memories focus on his growing up years, his growing pains. Readers see his struggle to find himself, to accept himself. Let's just say that his mother was very opinionated about what kind of person her son should be, and, he didn't live up to her expectations. The book tells in a way his journey to finding the real him.
Throwing A Grape
My earliest memory is of throwing a grape. I was a two-year old playing on the stucco porch of a neighbor's house early one morning. I picked up a grape from a fruit bowl on the breakfast table and threw it for their German shepherd dog to chase. The grape bounced back off the wall and landed near me. The dog and I got to the grape at the same time, but I managed to close my chubby fingers around it just as the dog's jaws were about to claim the prize. The frustrated animal turned on me and bit me on the arm and on the back of the head. I remember in a dreamlike way the shouts and confusion of the adults when they called my parents and drove me to the hospital. It took fourteen stitches to close the gash on my head and six more for the wound on my arm. I don't remember the hospital or the pain, just the grape, the dog, and the chaos. A little patch of hair never grew back on my head.
Looking back, I wonder if the dog attack had anything to do with the nervousness I exhibited during my childhood or whether I was simply destined to be a worried, anxious boy, German shepherd bites or not. I do know that my physical timidity in those early years was a concern to my father and mother and a great disappointment. This story of my peripatetic life during the Second World War, and of my family's beginnings in China, is also a story of that nervous boy gradually finding his strength in art and a way to be in the world that was not his father's or mother's idea of a man's life. (4)

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


SarahElisabeth Jones 3:58 PM  

This sounds fascinating. Would you say that it is suitable for children and if so for what ages? I'm putting together some Second World War resources to use with my children.

Becky 4:19 PM  

I'd say maybe sixth grade and up. I'd also recommend The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson.

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