ARC: The Palest Ink

A fascinating and informative look at China's Cultural Revolution. #spon | A book review by

Note: I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Summary via

Set against the backdrop of Chairman Mao’s tumultuous Chinese Revolution, bestselling author Kay Bratt’s The Palest Ink is a beautifully rendered novel about two best friends from very different walks of life.

A sheltered son from an intellectual family in Shanghai, Benfu spends 1966 anticipating a promising violinist career and an arranged marriage. On the other side of town lives Pony Boy, a member of a lower-class family—but Benfu’s best friend all the same. Their futures look different but guaranteed…until they’re faced with a perilous opportunity to leave a mark on history.

At the announcement of China’s Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao’s Red Guard members begin their assault, leaving innocent victims in their wake as they surge across the country. With political turmoil at their door, both Benfu and Pony Boy must face heart-wrenching decisions regarding family, friendship, courage, and loyalty to their country during one of the most chaotic periods in history.

I have to admit my almost total ignorance about China’s Cultural Revolution before I read this book. I asked my husband when I started reading the book, “What exactly was happening in China in the 60s?” Boy, did I find out.

Benfu is the teenage son of two scholars who expect him to follow in their footsteps, becoming a professor and marrying the girl they have chosen for him. However, Benfu would rather spend his time playing violin and helping his lower-class friend, Pony Boy, support his family. But when Chairman Mao’s revolution begins sweeping the nation, neither of these dreams come to pass. Benfu and Pony Boy are both caught up in the chaos as they both do their best to keep their heads down, watching friends and family be mistreated and sometimes facing extreme circumstances themselves. They are soon presented with the opportunity to speak up about the atrocities being committed in the name of creating a modern China, but this opportunity may cost them–and their families–everything.

I was amazed at how much I learned by reading this book. According to the author, the destruction and crimes committed as part of Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution are only now starting to be discussed in China, so I was glad to learn more about this little-known piece of history. Chairman Mao and his followers committed atrocities on the level of Stalin or Hitler, and it was heartbreaking to witness two teenagers as they watched their world fall apart and their families and neighbors turn on each other. As a lover of history, it was also horrifying to read about how much of China’s rich historical and cultural artifacts were destroyed for being too “bourgeoise” during this period.

Benfu and Pony Boy are both interesting characters, and I enjoyed following their very different journeys and decisions. I found the book slow at the start, but once the action really began, I couldn’t put the book down. Highly recommended for teenagers or adults who are fans of historical fiction and want to learn more about this chaotic period of China’s history.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

About Monica

I am obsessed with all things books. I'm a music teacher by day and a freelance editor by night.

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