A Memoir of Misfortune

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Su Xiaokang was born in 1949 in China's Zhejiang province. He now lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

A compelling memoir—both gripping and deeply personal—by one of the leaders of the democracy movement in China, who managed to escape to America with his family only to find himself faced with a tragedy more terrifying than he had ever imagined.

In the 1980s, Su Xiaokang, a young journalist, wrote the script for a six-part television series, River Elegy, which probed so deeply into the core of Chinese beliefs and values that it galvanized the entire country in an explosion of intellectual debate. Having survived the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, he now became the focus of a massive pursuit as one of the regime’s five most wanted “criminals,” and was smuggled out of China, leaving behind his wife, Fu Li, and their young son. After two long years and great international pressure, the family was finally reunited in Princeton, New Jersey. For a brief time, it seemed as if the worst was behind them. But on June 4, 1993—exactly four years after Tiananmen—while the family was being driven to Niagara Falls, the car they were in sped off the road. When Su Xiaokang regained consciousness, he discovered that Fu Li was in a coma, from which she would eventually emerge unable to speak or to control her limbs.

Suddenly, the national hero who had accepted his place at the center of a political revolution was a husband and a father who had to remake an emotional world for his wife and son. Throughout his candid and extraordinarily moving memoir, we become party to this man’s innermost thoughts and feelings, his guilt and fear, his moral self-questioning, his bravery and strength, as he tells the story of his wife before and after the accident, and of how his sense of love, marriage, responsibility, and the true goals of life was profoundly and forever changed.

"This book is a record of intense soul-searching, of a reevaluation of the self's role in the family, and of the impossibility of understanding and mastering one's (mis)fortune. Su Xiaokang writes with candor, feeling, and intelligence. In an allegorical sense, this book is a concise history of the exiled soul. Its rich details, acute observations, and relentless self-questioning mark an earnest but tempered mind at work. Zhu Hong's supple translation has rendered the prose achingly beautiful."
-Ha Jin, National Book Award-winning author of Waiting

"In his Memoir of Misfortune, Su Xiaokang reminds us all of the agonizing consequences exile can have: loss of purpose, loss of language, loss of country, loss of a familiar audience. But faced with the greatest potential loss of all, his wife's death, Su comes back from the edge to create an astonishing work of love and compassion, one that reaffirms the triumph of life."
-Jonathan Spence, Yale University