The Next Chapter

Translating her stepmother's essays on China's Cultural Revolution proved deeply emotional for Madeleine Thien

The author of Do Not Say We Have Nothing discusses Katherine Lou’s memoir, The Unceasing Storm.
The English version of The Unceasing Storm is the product of a collaboration between award-winning novelist Madeleine Thien, right, and her stepmother, Katherine Luo. (Katherine Luo/Babak Salari)

A few years ago, Katherine Luo published a book of essays in China, about living in China during the Cultural Revolution. The Unceasing Storm: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution has now been translated into English, thanks to Luo's stepdaughter, the writer Madeleine Thien. In 2016, Thien won the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction and the Scotiabank Giller Prize for her novel, Do Not Say We Have Nothing.

Working through wounds

"Katherine is, or was, the partner of my father, who passed away in December 2017. It's been quite emotional working with her through the final process of putting the book into the world. The Cultural Revolution was the culmination of politically strict campaigns that targeted different classes of society in China. In The Unceasing Storm, Katherine describes what happened to her during these years, first as a university student, then as a singer and performer in the Central Academy of Drama and the Red Army Opera Troupe. As the political repression intensified in force, Katherine and many of her colleagues were also sent to re-education camps. She tells the story of China in the 1980s — how what she hoped for her country was dashed during the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations and the massacre outside of Tiananmen Square."

Capturing the spirit of an age

"Katherine and I spent a long time talking about the beliefs she held as a young woman and the pain of having to reassess everything she had believed in. She recounts what happened when ideology took over this very idealistic generation — a generation of young people who were really committed to sacrificing whatever it took to create a more just society. My feeling is that she wrote The Unceasing Storm because she understood that she was growing older and that this generation was passing. What they had seen and heard, what they had tried to create — was being lost to the rewriting of history that is so present in 20th-century China."

Madeleine Thien's comments have been edited and condensed.