Stephen’s comfortable but empty existence is transformed by an unexpected visitor from his past. Forced to face up to the consequences of a love long suppressed, he is drawn back to his time teaching in Beijing, China during the Spring of 1989. There he toyed with the people and events of the pro-democracy movement, only in search of youthful adventure. Despite his naivety, he was drawn inexorably towards both. Though travel took him from the Great Wall to the plains of Inner Mongolia, there was no escaping the pull of Tiananmen Square on the night of 4th June.
The Melon Seed is narrated by Stephen during a time when Chinese students wanted a change in their lives. They wanted the freedom of the people in the West. Having it narrated by a Westerner shows a view from someone from a democracy who didn’t quite understand what was happening.
I’m old enough to remember the events that happened in Tiananmen Square and remember it starting as a polite protest, but I didn’t realize it lasted as long as it did. A good description from the book: “It was all very Chinese: very polite, excessively civilised and surprisingly low key; how to hold a revolution without actually offending anyone; that was the Chinese dilemma, or so it seemed at the time.”
Stephen’s personal life intertwined with what was going on in China at the time is done well. He even became involved with a woman during this time. Mai Lin was a strong young woman, and she and Stephen had one of those romances that was never meant to be. It was sweet and sad and an important part of Stephen’s story.
There is some interesting Chinese history about previous protests and about the Chinese/Japanese conflicts. The descriptions of inner Mongolia are also good.
The way the Chinese treated the Westerners was interesting. They were so polite until Gorbachev was coming. The students wanted the English to get involved in their protests, and it’s obvious the government wanted the English out of there. Sadly, the students didn’t really know what they wanted other than change.
If you like historical fiction, this is a book you won’t want to miss.
Excerpt from “The Melon Seed”
“I summoned up the courage to help at the barricade. Rounding the bus, I stared into the distance. The smoke had thinned but the loud cracks and whistles had increased. There was a flash and then another bang and it finally dawned on me: the army had opened fire. Courage deserted me. I had retreated and jumped into the bus before I had any time to think. I stood in the aisle, panting, pressed against a cold metal screen, scanning for Mai Lin. Most of the seats had been removed, boards and tables set up in their place. From these, people were gathering up maps and papers and hurrying outside. Mai Lin was carrying a cardboard box. Seeing me, she pushed the box into my chest.
“They’re firing,” I blurted out.
“Yes,” she said. “The unarmed soldiers. That was a trick. The retreat is a tactic, too. People lost their heads and burned the trucks. Now the army has its reason to use force.”
“Plastic bullets and tear gas,” someone added, snatching the box from me. “Don’t worry, Richie, just keep your distance.”
It was Lee Dang, beaming at me as though we were in the Happy Days diner. By the time I recognised him, he was gone, his motorbike weaving through the debris towards Tiananmen Square.
The bus was set alight, but we did not stay to watch. People in the crowd were pointing and shouting. Some had now engaged. They were rushing out to help block the road. Further up, from amongst the smoke, sections of truck and armoured personnel carrier slipped in and out of view. Fire from the barricades licked at their wheels. People were running ahead of them, the braver ones stopping to throw whatever they could get hold of. The gunfire was becoming more intense. A Molotov cocktail lit up the asphalt in front of an APC. The vehicle dove straight through the flames.”
About the Author
Dr A. T. Grant is married with two children and lives outside Bath in England. Widely experienced in teaching both at home and abroad, he has led student expeditions to remote locations across the globe. As an avid traveller, he has published three novels including The Jaguar: a tale of Gods, Ghosts and Gangsters (2015) which takes place on the US-Mexican border, an historical adventure in the remote Uluguru Mountains of eastern Tanzania called Leopard Skies (2016), and a contemporary ghost story set in Scotland entitled Feather (2017).
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Press/Media Contact Details:
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