Title: Freedom Swimmer
Author: Wai Chim
Rating: 4/5 sweet potatoes
Release date: September 1st 2016
Ming survived the famine that killed his parents during China’s ‘Great Leap Forward’, and lives a hard but adequate life, working in the fields…When a group of city boys comes to the village as part of a Communist Party re-education program, Ming and his friends aren’t sure what to make of the new arrivals. They’re not used to hard labour and village life. But despite his reservations, Ming befriends a charming city boy called Li. The two couldn’t be more different, but slowly they form a bond over evening swims and shared dreams…But as the bitterness of life under the Party begins to take its toll on both boys, they begin to imagine the impossible: freedom.
This book is amazing. I’ve been a fan of Historical Fiction for a while and never have I ever picked up a book that centres around China. I love how the author chooses to revolve the story around two boys. Li and Ming are the ideal duo to tell the tale of China’s ‘Great Leap Forward’. Their perspectives are so refreshing. The stories they tell are brutally honest and raw and it’s made me appreciate China and its culture even more.
Just like any other Historical Fiction, there are a bunch of references in the book and (I might be a tad bit bias here) but it feels great to read and actually understand the language that’s used in the book. In this case, the author includes Chinese characters and ‘pinyins’ in the story to allow the readers to explore the minds of a true Chinese teen. This way, the readers not only learn as they read through the book, they get to understand the struggles that Ming and Li had to overcome and their journey as they advance from their lives on the fields to liberating freedom.
Ming and Li’s unlikely friendship is probably my favorite thing about this book. Literally nothing separates these two. Even in times where people are not to be trusted, no matter what, these two are always there for each other. It’s such a delight to watch these boys grow up together to become independent men despite being surrounded with danger and evil.
The ending tore my heart in two, but honestly it couldn’t have ended any better. Unlike most Historical Fiction novels, this one was light yet poignant. An intricate tale, but simple to follow through. Chim’s writing is mesmerising. The book is very small, but the author is able to construct a detailed, fictional piece of ancient history in about 200+ pages. Absolute brilliance.
Though it might be pretty short, I do find the book to be a bit passive at times. I would’ve finished this book in two sittings but it took me more than that because I had to put it down due to the lack of dynamics. But even so, the book was indeed truly enjoyable.
After reading this book, I now have this urge to pick up anything this author writes. Her writing is gets me so hooked! I’m in dire need of another Wai Chim original.
With that being said, do pick up this book! You don’t even have to be a fan of Historical Fiction. If you like coming of age stories, this book is it!
A huge thank you to Allen & Unwin for sending this book over in exchange for an honest review!