This Chinese novel is presented as the narrator's coming of age story in rural Xinjiang during the Cultural Revolution. While political events intrude frequently, they shape the emotional tone of the story, not in the protagonist's response to policies and dictates, but in the fear, brutality, and betrayal that pervade most of the relationships. Though the narrator is more sympathetic than Mishima's, I was nevertheless reminded at times of the flat, calculating, cool affect of the children in The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea. Here, though, the adults as well as the children are alienated, though they are more prone to outbursts of rage and despair. Love Liu sees English, and its symbol, his teacher's English dictionary, as a way out, though this abstraction ultimately fails him. Read with Hessler's River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze for an outsider's experience of teaching English in a nearby region of China or with pretty much any Yukio Mishima for cross-cultural resonance.