Fiction Terrence Cheng Sons of Heaven

ISBN 13: 9780060002435

Sons of Heaven

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9780060002435: Sons of Heaven

Sons of Heaven is an epic novel set against the backdrop of one of modern history's most haunting events: the Tiananmen Square Massacre. In June of 1989, the world watched in horror as China's military was mobilized to suppress a student movement that stood for peaceful democracy. Hundreds were killed; others say into the thousands. No one knows for sure.

But the image that remains most powerful is that of a lone young man, looking confused yet terribly brave, as he held his ground before a rolling line of tanks. Who was he, and why did he do what he did? No one has ever been able to determine his identity or fate. Within the pages of Sons of Heaven, in a stunning blend of history and fiction, Terrence Cheng has vividly created for this young hero a life, and given him a voice.

Cheng constructs the young man's life as he goes away to America to complete his education. He falls in love with a beautiful young American girl who opens to him a free life filled with opportunity. When he returns to China he becomes embittered and disillusioned; only the potential for political change seems to revive him. Also portrayed is the story of the young man's older brother, an ardent member of the Red Army, who is ordered to capture his sibling. In the end, their political differences turn deadly. On one level this is a novel of history as played out in modern China, but first and foremost, it is about the universal ties of family and the difficult process of boys learning to become men.

Cheng also scrutinizes the life and history of Deng Xiaoping, China's leader who is suspected of giving the final order to turn the People's Army against its own people. What historical and political factors affected his decisions that fateful summer? Was Deng the monster that the world made him out to be?

An unsettling and powerfully lacerating story of family, faith, and courage, Sons of Heaven weaves the lives of peasants and soldiers, politicians and gods, into a timeless snapshot of one of history's most memorable and heartrending events. With this unforgettable, psychologically acute novel, Terrence Cheng confirms that he is a daring and important new voice in fiction.

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Review:

With Sons of Heaven, Terrence Cheng has crafted a personal and insightful look into the Tiananmen Square massacre and its participants. Inspired by the famous footage of the unknown man who stopped the tanks, Cheng creates a conjectural history for him in the character of Xiao-Di, an intelligent, opinionated young man raised by his grandparents in Beijing. The father of Xiao-Di's girlfriend, a supervisor at the employment bureau, helps him receive a scholarship to study at Cornell. After ending the relationship and returning to Beijing, Xiao-Di finds himself blacklisted from employment. Idealistic and angry, he joins the growing student movement centered in Tiananmen. Cheng intersects the narrative with Xiao-Di's brother Lu, a bitter, vicious soldier later ordered to capture him, and the character of Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, combining history and speculation in an attempt to understand the violent response to the protests. With patience and understatement, Cheng offers a sympathetic glimpse into each man's inner life and motivations, revealing their shared experiences and tragedies. The author humanizes these stories with just the right amount of quietly stunning detail in his assured, elegant prose, such as the "sparkles over the Mao pins" on Lu's boyhood uniform, or in Deng's evocative dreams:

Here is a wolf-faced Mao, lean and sharp-eyed, his hair long and wavy framing the sides of his face. He smokes cigarette after cigarette, blowing clouds into the air of the blue night.... Mao stands with a rifle and blasts a shot into the night, and in the purple drop of evening stars shatter and rocket the sky.

A haunting, rare book, Sons of Heaven communicates the basic humanity of these characters and the true cost of their conflict. --Ross Doll

About the Author:

Terrence Cheng's grandmother was a senator in the Chinese Nationalist Party, and his grandfather was a prisoner-of-war captured by the Japanese during World War II. Both survived and moved their family to Taiwan after the Communists came to power in 1949.

Cheng was born in Taipei, Taiwan in 1972, and immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1973. He earned his MFA in Fiction at the University of Miami, FL, where he was a James Michener Fellow. Director of Corporate Website Marketing for Random House Inc., he also teaches fiction at Lehman College-CUNY. He has lived most of his life in New York.

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