Brushstrokes in Time is a fictional memoir following the life of Xiaodong (Little Winter in English) starting in the communist China, past the death of Mao and shine lights on revolutionary group The Stars Art Movement. It deals with the heavy subjects of politics, suppression and freedom of speech intertwined with passion for the future and coming of age.
Little Winter realises that her attempts at hiding her past has led to a crevice in her and her daughter’s relationship which leads her to look back at the painful memories and share them, through this memoir, with her teenage daughter Sara. It begins on the grounds of the old Imperial Summer Palace in 1962 and the young Little Winter is living a calm and graceful life with her mother and father, but that beautiful childhood soon becomes a distant memory. Little Winter’s life has always been influenced by art but it is going to take her years before she can even dream about fully express herself.
The mixture of a mother’s love and the distant longing for a home that is gone creates a sepia coloured perspective. Facts and fiction flow flawlessly, giving it the quality of a well written memoir making every word Little Winter writes the truth. The dangerous love of art and the wanting of self expression is a strand that follows through the whole piece, at times being vital and other times fatal for hers and others wellbeing.
The notion of something constantly looming adds an Orwellian atmosphere to the delicate and at times, romantic story. She shows courage many times but the focus sporadically falls away from Little Winter on to the brave acts of the people around her, making it easy to sympathise and identify with her. Some of the characters in the story are people that actually existed whereas others are fictional and it is impossible to separate them.
Vetta has written an intriguing, heart breaking but yet tender story about a time and place in history where people were punished for not thinking the right thing. Brushstrokes in Time is set in what once felt very different from the western civilisation but when one looks closer the differences are minimal. Because when it comes down to the core human beings just want to feel safe, be loved, and have the opportunity to choose what kind of life they want to lead.
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This text is also published on Writing Times website and you can find it here.