Teen's fight to save father inspires YA novel

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First aired on The Current (16/04/13) 

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Ti-Anna Wang, named by her parents to commemorate what those massacred in Beijing's Tiananmen Square were fighting for, was on the cusp of becoming a teenager when she says the Chinese government kidnapped her dissident father, held a closed-door day-long trial and sentenced him to life in prison.

Ti-Anna knew her father dedicated his life to fighting for democracy in China, but growing up in Montreal, she never expected this type of injustice could happen.

"You live such a sheltered life in North America, it's almost too hard to believe," she told CBC's Matt Galloway in a recent interview on The Current. "I just thought it was a terrible mistake that would be corrected."

But it wasn't. For years, her father has remained in solitary confinement in a Chinese prison, growing into a dispirited man in his 60s.

As a teenager, Ti-Anna says it was really difficult for her to talk to her friends about her family troubles. She says no one her age could really understand what she was going through.

That's why she has high hopes for Fred Hiatt's new young adult book, Nine Days. Though fictional, Hiatt's tale is inspired by Ti-Anna's story.

Hiatt, the Washington Post's editorial page editor, first came across Ti-Anna's story when she submitted an op-ed piece to the Post.

"It was just a beautiful piece and really snapped me to attention," said Hiatt, adding he was impressed by Ti-Anna's courage. The year she submitted the op-ed, Ti-Anna embarked on a gap year after high school, moved to Washington and fought to bring her father's story into public and political discourse.

The summer after reading her piece, Haitt started working on his novel. Originally, he thought it would centre around a male protagonist, but the female character, based on Ti-Anna, kept pushing her way into the plot.

It evolved into a fictional adventure story of two unlikely friends who have nine days to rescue the girl's father.

Ti-Anna is excited for young readers to read the book.

"The idea that high school readers can familiarize themselves with this kind of subject and be inspired to do things that are bigger than themselves would be a lot already to me," said Ti-Anna.

When it comes to Chinese authorities freeing her father, Ti-Anna remains hopeful. She believes, like her father, that if U.S. and Canadian authorities start speaking out against Chinese human rights abuses, her father will be released.

Hiatt sees things less optimistically, though admits he hates to say it.

"[Chinese oppression] can't last forever, but forever is a long time and, of course, Ti-Anna's father is already in his 60s," he said.

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