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February 28, 2024

Aftershock by Zhang Ling ~ a Review

by MK French

An earthquake destroyed Tangshan, China in the summer of 1976. Among the survivors is a mother and her children, and the mother makes a choice that leaves seven-year-old Xiaodeng alone. She remembers the betrayal, and thirty years later is living in Canada as an acclaimed writer. Though she has a husband and daughter, she can't let go of the past and must get closure by returning to Tangshan.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

book cover of women's fiction novel Aftershock by Zhang Ling
February 2024; Amazon Crossing; 978-1662510373
audio, ebook, print (224 pages); women's fiction

Zhang Ling has written several beautiful novels, so I was eager to read this one as well. I'm familiar with the cadence of East Asian languages and figures of speech, though it might take a bit for a more casual reader to get used to it. We have multiple time periods within this tale, where we see Xiaodeng at various points in her life, as well as that of her mother and twin brother. The twins were both pinned beneath concrete because of the earthquake and saving one meant that it risked the other's death. Xiaodeng's brother Xiaoda was chosen, given he was the boy and the only one seen as being able to carry on the family name and tradition. This meant that Xiaodeng was assumed to be dead, leaving her twin and mother living in grief afterward. Xiaodeng survived and crawled through the wreckage on her own, and the opportunities given to her afterward were tempered and tainted. None of them came out unscathed from the earthquake, the aftereffects sharply changing the trajectory of their lives.

Grief and trauma dogged Xiaodeng's every moment. It's clear to us as the reader because we know more about her history than her adoptive parents did, and we see how heavy the guilt was for her brother and mother. Though Xiaodeng left China, she was still caught in the same pattern of negativity that had been with her since the fateful day of the earthquake: families will abandon you, no one will tell the truth, and there is no one to rely on other than herself. It's a sad and common outlook, one that prevented her from bonding with her daughter or husband on any but a superficial level. Xiaoda felt unable to meet the expectations on him, floundering for a long time. Their mother, already with a trauma history before the earthquake, was weighed down as well. It's not until the very end that everything comes together. 

This entire novel is a methodical look at the effects of grief on the lives of those affected by disaster. Though life went on, certain aspects of their lives remained frozen in place. "Over time, she had become attached to the wounds. Saying goodbye to those wounds was painful too." It's gorgeously written, with a hint of hope at the end. 

Buy Aftershock at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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