Picks and Pans Review: Baba: a Return to China Upon My Father's Shoulders

updated 12/19/1994 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/19/1994 01:00AM

by Belle Yang

Spilling off the cover in a joyous river of color, Belle Yang's charming folkloric figures sweep you into this very special memoir. The Taiwan-born artist-author, who now lives in Carmel, Calif., uses her twin talents to conjure up the vanished landscape of her father's youth on the plains of Manchuria.

"In a time when the world was a bit wider," Yang begins these yarns spun by her beloved Baba (Chinese for Papa). The fairy-tale narrative and the watercolors that open each chapter have a poetic elegance in their childlike simplicity. Beguiled by the musical cadence and bold strokes, we only slowly become aware of the underlying seriousness of Yang's dual story—an intimate portrait of rural Chinese life in the early days of this century and a wider view of the way distant events, like the Japanese invasion of the province, will forever change it.

But, bright in Baba's memory, the magic remains. Romantic "redbeard" bandits still roam the countryside, ghosts haunt the hearth, and prospective brides' earlobes are inspected for the thickness that portends good fortune. "I thought you had come to this country with empty pockets," Yang writes of her father. "Little did I know they were jingling with stories—my inheritance." And now ours. (Harcourt Brace, $27.95)

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