We Served the People: My Mother’s Stories are snippets of the life of a woman who came of age during China’s Cultural Revolution. These stories come from Emei Burell’s mother, showing the world that a generation lived in. This was a world that started when the students of the late 1960s were leaving junior high/during high school and would end when they were in their late 20s and early 30s. Ten years of Burell’s mother’s life (ages 17 to 27) would be spent in the country, digging, driving tractors, driving trucks (and being one of the few women who did so), dealing with sickness, corruption and more. With the death of Chairman Mao, a third chapter started in the lives of these people. We follow a woman who was determined to succeed when the odds were against her until the mid-1980s when she finally left China to go to Sweden to further her education.
This graphic novel does not seem like it would be interesting. In fact, there were times when it was basically downright boring (but also telling of the time and place). And at the same time, it grabbed me. This was life for these people, and they did the best they could. The lack of color (only blues, greens, browns, and the occasional red) sets the tone. It makes it seem “Once Upon a Time” but it was within most of our lifetimes.
Scattered among the drawn illustrations are black and white photographs. I might have missed it, but there seemed to be little in the way of description of who or what was going on. Yet, they are placed within certain text, therefore, allow you to assume this was the authors mother and her peers during the event mentioned.
If you are looking for a history or summary of the Cultural Revolution, this is not it. If you are looking for stories of life, this is it. And if you are looking for something that shows a woman showing it is never too late and/or no challenge is too great to overcome, this is it.