To the Edge of the Sky
Anhua Gao spent three months of 1985 in a 10-by-10-foot cell with three other inmates and a host of mosquitoes, centipedes, and long, red things that made sucking sounds when pried off the wall. Not surprisingly, Gao's memoir ends shortly after the chapter about her time in Wawaqiao Prison; after her release, Gao quickly married a British man and gleefully emigrated, ending her experiences in communist China.
The government that imprisoned Gao was the government she spent a lifetime supporting, if not adoring. Born in 1949 to two high-ranking Communists in the newly declared People's Republic of China, she had little reason not to. The Party took care of its own, providing her family with food, housing, cars, and domestic staff. As a baby, Gao wore a tiny yellow-starred cap; as a schoolgirl she enjoyed a prized meeting with "Grandpa Ho."
Soon, however, Gao's contentment turned to confusion. While she describes Mao Tse Tung's grisly operations, she also doesn't conceal the admiration she once held for him. Gao's feelings grew more conflicted as she got older, especially when Mao announced that all educated young people would be relocated to the poorest, most remote rural areas to work alongside peasants. To avoid this assignment, Gao joined the army and continued to strive to honor the Party as a soldier. Just two years later, this stint fell apart when an older sister betrayed her by turning in letters Gao had written expressing doubts about the government; Gao was brought before an assembly of her army peers, denounced as unpatriotic, and expelled.
It was in prison, arrested on false evidence for leaking trade secrets to the enemy, that she saw the Party again for the first time. Brought before prison officials, she proved their mistake within seconds. Still, she was told, to free her now would make the Party look bad. Back in her cell, leaning against cement and smelling raw sewage, she terminated any remaining loyalty to communism and her country.
To the Edge of the Sky is an honest, forthcoming account. Knowing that readers have the benefit of hindsight, Gao takes the risk of looking naive. While surely her book warns against blind allegiance to any government, like many memoirs it is also a catharsis, a way to exorcise her sense of betrayal. In the end, it is grief that resonates throughout the book, and that makes it most compelling, as she mourns her lost family, her thwarted potential, and a maligned sense of faith.