The Tragedy of Liberation – Frank Dikötter

Reviewed by Renée Korver-Michan

First of all, it should be said; I am no expert on China. I have been there twice in my life, a short visit to Beijing and Tianjin and that’s it. It was enough to make me curious though, which was why I was interested in reading this book.

For me, books need to be readable to enjoy (and finish) them. Reading the title of this book made me a bit apprehensive, fearing it might be reminiscent of a dry history book. I was relieved to find this was not the case with The Tragedy of Liberation. Starting in 1945, the narrative takes the reader through the first twelve years of Mao’s regime, explaining what it meant for the people of China. Where relevant, background information is provided to help the reader better understand the historical position and motivation of people. Facts and figures are woven together with narrative, using confessions, letters and a host of other sources which just recently have become available to the public. Frank Dikötter has managed to find a balance between the numbers and percentages of the many, and the telling and often heart wrenching stories of the few. These stories make the figures more than just numbers, they become people, trying to survive and often failing in horrible circumstances.

The Tragedy of Liberation is a well-written, interesting book, which I would recommend anyone who is interested in (the history of) China and wishes to better understand how it came to what it is today.

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Ebook available for Mao’s Great Famine.