Academic journal article Chicago Review


Academic journal article Chicago Review


Article excerpt

In the early spring of 1944 the Yangtze River wreacked its annual havoc on the inhabitants living along its shores. I had turned five, and remember crossing the river with my parents at the height of its flood.

No. In 1944 I crossed the Yangtze River with my parents. It seemed to me as a five year old that most of the world had sunk under the turbulent heavy water. There as flotsam, the branches and logs and pieces of lumber, a dead chicken, bloated goat, carried a sucking dark smell that the wind and brown current would not dissipate.

Everything has shifted just a little since, probably including more of what wasn't there than what was.

From the first tense of my memory life, I have only two or three impressions of my father. This was one of them. He seldom told by example and even less by word. He was away most of the time, but he was to tell me four years later when I had just finished practicing the piano, he said Don't follow in the steps of Turgenev.

So this one I remember, though not in this order. The Yangtze starts somewhere in the Tibetan Highlands and meanders some 3,500 miles before it empties into the East China Sea at Shanghai. Until dams and levees were constructed to control the river's annual spring flood, much of the lowlands was threatened every year. But this was 1944, years before the completion of the flood-control project.

The water was muddy that spring, that is to say, I remember the color of the water.

Shouting at another boat that had turned over upstream from ours, our boatman steered to scavenge the planks drifting downriver from the fast sinking sampan. From the opposite end of ours, my father stood up dangerously with an oar and threatened to knock him overboard unless he helped with the drowning victims of the overturned boat. …

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