Saturday 9 March 2024

Book Review: Tiananmen Square by Lai Wen (Contemporary Literature)

Title: Tiananmen Square
Author: Lai Wen
Publisher: Swift Press
Publication Date: 23 May 2024
Pages: 528
Format: eBook - PDF
Genre: Contemporary Literature
Source: ARC via NetGalley

A stunning, deeply moving autobiographical novel about growing up in Beijing in the 1970s and 80s and taking part in Tiananmen Square protests

It is Beijing in the 1970s, and Lai lives with her parents, grandmother and younger brother in a small flat in a working-class area. Her grandmother is a formidable figure – no-nonsense and uncompromising, but loving towards her granddaughter – while her ageing beauty of a mother snipes at her father, a sunken figure who has taken refuge in his work.

As she grows up, Lai comes to discern the realities of the country she lives an early encounter with the police haunts her for years; her father makes her see that his quietness is a reaction to experiences he has lived through; and an old bookseller subtly introduces her to ideas and novels that open her mind to different perspectives. But she also goes through what anyone goes through when young – the ebbs and flows of friendships; troubles and rewards at home and at school; and the first steps and missteps in love.

A gifted student, she is eventually given a scholarship to study at the prestigious Peking University; while there she meets new friends, and starts to get involved in the student protests that have been gathering speed. It is the late 1980s, and change is in the air...

A truly remarkable novel about coming to see the world as it is, Tiananmen Square is the story of one girl's life growing up in the China of the 1970s and 80s, as well as the story of the events in 1989 that give the novel its the hope and idealism of a generation of young students, their heroism and courage, and the price that some of them paid.


Tiananmen Square was a captivating and thought-provoking tale which cast a light on the life of young people in Beijing in the 1970s and 1980s. I was caught up in the characters and events right from the start and the story held my interest through to the end as we followed Lai during her formative years and got a sense of the political situation in China at that time. I am giving this book 4 stars.

I received this book as a free eBook ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

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