The Palest Ink. Kay Bratt. Lake Union Publishing. October 2015. 416 pp. ISBN#: 9781503946169.
Mao Tse-Tung is at a crossroads in China in the year 1966. His original plan to increase agricultural output has been a disaster and stories about brutality, starvation and disease travel like lightning despite efforts to curtail dissension and negativity. Three young Chinese students, Benfu, Pony Boy and Wen, are divided in their loyalty to Mao. However, little by little, a transformation occurs in their devotion, an evolution in which they believe they must publish the abuses and brutalities being committed by Mao’s notorious Red Guard, a group of supporters who become Mao’s arm of accusation and compliance. The latter discover they have power and they carry out that formidable opportunity with terror and death. Benfu, Pony Bok and Wen carry out a plan to reveal this travesty of progress but the consequences will be phenomenal and costly.
Benfu is a talented violin player who comes from a distinguished family. His mother is constantly monitoring his every move and her demands are almost paranoid in her efforts to preserve and guard the “family honor” and social status they have worked so hard to possess. Benfu is becoming a man and so finds his mother’s efforts to control him unbearable. His only consolation is the time he spends with his best friend, Pony Boy.
Tragedy worsens Pony Boy’s status as a poor young man. When his father becomes ill, Pony Boy must work long, long hours just to allow his family to retain their home and have meager meals to survive. Pony Boy after turning from an ardent Communist realizes Mao is repressing and brutalizing his people during the period when all high status Chinese people are being purged and reeducated. Pony Boy and Benfu plan a publication that will expose all that is wrong with Mao’s plans and actual realities.
Benfu and Pony Boy will fall in love with women they respect, independent, strong-minded women who are willing to testify to the travesties of justice now rampant throughout China. Benfu is sent to escape to the country to escape the Red Guard’s investigations into wealthy families but that country journey is one of working on a collective farm in which self-criticism and judgment by others is a constant threat to life and limb. Pony Boy continues their efforts while Benfu works and suffers. Eventually their reunion will spark a final challenge that is breathtaking in its fierce challenge and involve some other very special characters.
The Palest Ink is a potent, beautiful story about resistance and loyalty to friend, family and foe the reader will find hard to forget. Its insistence that the written word surpasses all memories proves significantly true about this particular, significant historical period. The mission of serving as a witness to history is valuable beyond words and so succeeds beyond expectations. Very nicely crafted, Kay Bratt!