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Bookworm Festival Pulse: A Conversation with Karoline Kan

About 3 Generations of Life, Loss and Hope inChina

Karoline Kan is a soft-spoken, petite young woman with long black hair that she keeps swept across her right shoulder. She has a palpable sweetness to her disposition that emanates from the stage and into the room, and she sits beside Riley Brett-Roche, a PhD candidate from Standford University, who is there to ask questions and moderate the talk.

The book, Under Red Skies, is a multi-generational story of three women: herself, her mother, and her grand mother. She tells us that her mother gave birth to her while the One Child Policy was in effect, and she was the forbidden second child. She doesn’t go much into what this must have meant, for her mother and her family, aside from that her mother lost her job, and never got another one that was formally recognized by the government. Kan also mentions, as a brief aside that leaves the room deadly silent, that many women who had a second child were forced to go through a sterilization process that the police continue to deny.

Kan notes that many people throughout time feel the younger generations in a society are different from older generations, almost as if they belong to two countries, but “when you sit down and think about it, you realize their stories are impacting our stories and our lives.” That one generation was born from the other, and so we are intricately and inherently connected.

When she’s asked what she hopes people who read the book will learn about it, she says “I hope this book will be an inspiration for people to discover more stories about Chinese people. I don’t want to be regarded as a voice for my whole generation . . . because my storyi s just one of tens of millions of stories in China.”

“Most Chinese people will tell you,” she says, “that regarding their personal history, there is nothing special to tell. They look at their neighbor or their friend and you see that they all share the same tragedies. You think, ‘that is China. That is my generation.’ They think they are just common women who know nothing who never went to school.’”

For example, her grandmother lost two sons to starvation, and she thought it was just a normal story, not worthy of being told; perhaps through Kan’s book, these stories, and others like them, will find a shape and a space to be heard.

Written by: Amanda Fiore

Writer & Writing Educator in Beijing, China

BLFVolunteer, 2019


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