Family Comic Friday: We Served The People: My Mother’s Stories
A young cartoonist learns about her mother’s life growing up in China’s Cultural Revolution in the biographical graphic novel: We Served The People: My Mother’s Stories.
From 1966-1976, millions of children were uprooted from their homes and sent to work in rural populations of China. The idea was to strip away the last vestiges of Capitalism from Communist China. One way to do that was to move children from modern cities to work on farms and plantations. The idea was that this most simple was of life would make the citified children of China less Westernized. But it actually had a reverse affect on Emei Burell’s mother.
We Served The People is a first person account of a Chinese young woman’s time working for a rubber plantation nearly 800 miles away from her family in Beijing. As one of the only women taught to drive and operate trucks and tractors, ‘Mom’ learns about engineering first hand. This opens her up to wanting to get her degree in engineering when she was finally allowed to return to the capital city to be reunited with her family.
I feel like there’s a sequel to this story because there’s this huge build-up towards getting Emei Burell’s mother to Sweden where she will eventually continue her college education in the sciences. But before she ends up in Sweden, the story ends. Yet, I really feel that Mom Burell was just getting started.
For a book advertising the impact of the Cultural Revolution on a person, We Served The People was more passive. Red Scarf Girl is an excellent prose account of Ji-Li Jiang’s mis-education at the hands of a program that experts agree was a giant step backwards for China. Jiang’s memoir tells more of how she had to change whereas this graphic novel is more about the aftermath of the lost years of education at the hands of the Mao Zedong school of thought.
The stories in the book were very interesting. I just expected more accounts during the Cultural Revolution instead of afterwards. Emei’s mother spent almost a decade away from her family. But not even half of this book is devoted to that time of separation. I was just left wanting more.
One thing that I was quite upset at having too much of is something I mentioned recently in another review. It’s the waste of paper. In between the stories, BOOM! Studios and Archaia put 2-4 solid read pages as dividers. I’m sure that the cost of red ink isn’t cheap. Plus, there’s the fact that the first 10 pages of this book are blank as well. If you had omitted all of that, you would have shaved 30 pages from the book and probably could’ve sold it for under $20.
Comic book publishers have got some great stories, such as this one, to tell. But in order to survive this hostile economy, brought upon thanks to a pandemic and exorbitant production costs, changes to how our graphic novels are printed must occur. Please, don’t go digital only! But consider trimming those blank pages in order to make graphic novels of historical importance, like We Served The People more affordable.
An interesting read that would make a great Summer read for those in middle and high school!
We Served The People: My Mother’s Stories is currently available in print and digital formats.
For more Family Comic Friday and other reviews, check out my blog: Madman with a Book!
An account of an unknown time in China's history.