Saturday, February 08, 2020

Han Suyin - My house has two doors

Publisher: Jonathan Cape (1980)
Author: Han Suyin
Title: My house has two doors

Han Suyin was a prolific writer. She wrote novels (love stories as she called them), biographical profiles (or Chinese leaders) and autobiographies. She also wrote many articles in leading newspapers and magazines of the western world. She lived in Europe - Belgium, France, England and Switzerland. She also lived for long stretches in Hong Kong and Malaysia. She traveled all over the world and met many great thinkers and statesmen of her time.

She put all her knowledge to good use by writing autobiographies that were more commentaries of her time than too many personal details. I love all the personal details she puts in, what it was like growing up in China of the early part of the twentieth century. What it was like to be a Eurasian in a conservative Chinese society. What it was like to be a person with ambition in those times. She loves her love for China on her sleeve and maps the painful journey her country took from the greedy warlords of the nineteenth century to the exploitative Kuomintang to the Communist China under Mao and Chou Enlai.  There are no revolutions that are painless and no changes that take time to settle.

The world in general was casting off the shackles of colonialism and moving towards self rule. To assume that democracy is a benign state that throws up good leaders is a fallacy. As we have seen for ourselves, democracy can throw up despots and dictators as easily as Fascism. It is not easy to achieve an 'ideal' state a country can be in. If this ideal state is achieved thanks to a good leader, there is a good chance that bad times are lurking around the corner. The masses who vote can be as uninformed and clueless as the masses in communist countries who do not get a say in who will lead the party. In the end everyone has to keep their eyes and ears open and hope to judge what is best for them.

Information is vital to all human beings regardless of the country they reside in. Pure information, that means simply to inform and not prejudice you in any way is very hard to come by. We feel the pinch now even more when there is so much conflicting information available on all sorts of media. In fact, controlling the media has been the number one priority of all political parties. In such times informing yourself by eclectic readings of various points of view is the only way out.

It is in this context that I realized the value of this book. Yes, Han Suyin loves China and there is a good reason for believing that her love colors her narrative. Yet, she never hesitates to reveal the warts of the state her country of birth is in. Her writing is never dry and never a one sided drone. She tells us as she sees things, which is such a valuable trait, one we sorely miss in these times. We learn of the struggle China had to undergo, the good, the bad and the ugly.

This is exactly the kind of writing the world needs now and in the future. Intelligent and incisive minds telling us as it is without fear or favor. It is such a pity her books are no longer in circulation. I have amassed several of her books by trawling the second hand book sites. They are all part of the precious collection that I will never give away.


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