Apologies Forthcoming: Stories not about Mao


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By Xujun Eberlein

Winner of the third annual Tartt Fiction Award

It was some decade. The universities were closed. Students were at war. Poetry was banned. And the word “love,” unless applied to Mao, was expressly forbidden. Artists were denounced, and many opted for suicide. This is the time — its madness, its passion, its complexity — that Xujun Eberlein brings vividly to life in Apologies Forthcoming, her moving collection of short stories about the millions who lived during China’s Cultural Revolution.

An award-winning writer who now lives in Massachusetts, Eberlein has nothing to apologize for. Her stories are electrifying. About half of the stories take place during the years of the Cultural Revolution; the other half in its aftermath. How many come from personal experience is hard to say. Eberlein, who lived through the Cultural Revolution’s decade as a child and teenager, had a sister who died as a Red Guard, and that event seems fictionalized in one of the stories.

Apologies Forthcoming shines a revealing light on some of the people whose lives were changed forever by the ten years that turned China upside down. Eberlein does the great service of illuminating the interior lives of a peculiar generation, many of whom are now leading China’s phenomenal awakening.

Look inside this book
Click on the link to view sample pages from Apologies Forthcoming. You will need a pdf reader to view this excerpt. 

Men Don’t Apologize


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It was some decade. The universities were closed. Students were at war. Poetry was banned. And the word “love,” unless applied to Mao, was expressly forbidden. Artists were denounced, and many opted for suicide. This is the time — its madness, its passion, its complexity — that Xujun Eberlein brings vividly to life in Apologies Forthcoming, her moving collection of short stories about the millions who lived during China’s Cultural Revolution.


“Chinese-American authors such as Iris Chang and Amy Tan have made a significant contribution to factual and fictional literature, but few have a tale to tell as piquant as Xujun Eberlein’s.” — South China Morning Post

“In this book, a tragic era that the current Chinese leadership would like people to forget is stirred to vivid life by an author who was there at the time and bears insightful witness through her fiction. Mao Zedong’s desperate and incoherent scheme to recapture his dictatorial hold on China, which was slipping away in the aftermath of the catastrophic Great Leap Forward, serves as a fascinating backdrop for these subtle stories of patriotism, love, hope and loss. Most of these eight tales have been previously published in US literary journals such as AGNI, Night Train and Cottonwood. … Laudable in its own right, Eberlein’s collection is also a reminder of all the great stories that could and should be written in China today. Unfortunately, exile continues to be the home of China’s most honest and moving narratives.” — Asia Times

“In the year that marks the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Xujun Eberlein’s Apologies Forthcoming could not be more pointedly named or apposite in theme. The collection of short stories is a maddening and deeply touching remembrance of the Cultural Revolution at a human level. With subtle political censure, Eberlein brings to life characters that draw out the helplessness, hope and heartache of the people who lived through the decade and its long, awful aftermath. The author has a way of delivering pathos that leaves a pang in the chest.” Time Out

The SCMP & Dymocks Book Club lists Apologies Forthcoming as a recommended read, and Xujun Eberlein has written a special introduction for SCMP subscribers. Read it here.

How does Xujun Eberlein write? Time Out Hong Kong asked the question.

In Apologies Forthcoming, Eberlein excels. An earlier edition of this, her first book, won the 2007 Tartt Fiction Award. The readers glean new understanding about the Cultural Revolution, its aftermath and how it affected everyone there. “What was heroic, just and glorious then, is ignorant, criminal and shameful now. It seems only those who survive the waste can understand, dooming new generations to repeat it in different places, for different causes.” The impact of those turbulent times lingers, still affecting hundreds of millions of Chinese. “My mom said she never once got enough to eat that whole year and she didn’t have milk to nurse me. I was always crying with hunger. I lived, but I’ve got a stomach problem.” Any meaningful apologies for past misdeeds come not from national leaders, but at the level of individual citizens to each other. Apologies Forthcoming is an important book about China’s past and the repercussions. Cairns Media Magazine

“Xujun Eberlein is a fresh voice in American fiction, a Chinese writer with a remarkably shrewd, interesting tongue. …There is a richness in her vision that sets it apart.” — Jay Parini, novelist, biographer; author of Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America

“Superbly presented and engaging fiction deftly showcasing the human condition, with a particular flair for realism in both character and dialogue.” — Midwest Book Review

“Xujun Eberlein remembers the stories China’s leaders want to forget. In her first book, Apologies Forthcoming, she writes about growing up in China at a time parents feared their children and students marched their teachers through the streets in dunce caps. As a young student, she saw Red Guard factions fight, sometimes fatally, in the streets over who was more loyal to Chairman Mao. Walking arm-in-arm with the Canadian teacher who became her husband, they were both arrested. In her book’s eight stories, other published works and her blog, Eberlein has created a forceful, honest voice that carries readers into smokey kitchens and lazy afternoons, crowded college dorms and ideological ‘struggle’ sessions which she left behind but refuses to forget.” — MetroWest Daily

Eberlein’s well-crafted, often moving stories deal primarily with the final years of the Cultural Revolution and the fascinating in-between period that followed, stretching from Mao’s death through the early 1980s, that has received less attention so far in works readily available in English. All demonstrate the author’s knack for effective quick character sketches and her skill at bringing natural and social settings to life via a minimum of carefully chosen details. — Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Professor of Chinese History, UC Irvine; author of Global Shanghai, 1850-2010

“Xujun Eberlein has an intimate feel for how the general conditions of a culture — her native Chinese culture — shape and distress the lives of her characters. She is a gifted story-teller, attuned to how people think and feel and deal with the things that really matter behind the show of appearances. The stories have a subtly addictive momentum.” — Sven Birkerts, literary critic, editor of AGNI, and author of My Sky Blue Trade

“Xujun Eberlein is a writer of uncommon talent. With affection and perception, she has drawn engaging characters struggling with love, friendship and loss in Chinese society during and after the Cultural Revolution. Apologies Forthcoming is a gem of a book.” — Laila Lalami, author of Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits

“The author of this short story collection is smart, articulate, and fearless. She is one of my new heroines—having grown up in the turmoil of China in the 70s and 80s, she moved the US in 1988 and achieved a PhD from MIT, but she didn’t stop there; she has used her fine talents in English to bring immediacy to the stories of individuals caught up in the turmoil during and after China’s Cultural Revolution. She dares to let her characters show the emptiness of this historic period—showing rather than telling—how people became unmoored from their own humanity.” Book Tsunami

“The value of Eberlein’s writing is to convey to an American audience the emotional complexities of individuals amidst the historical change of recent Chinese history. Rain Taxi

“This collection of short stories set against a backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution is remarkable primarily for its unstinting authenticity. The reader will understand from depictions of the places and events and from the rendering of the characters and their conflicted loyalties that this is a writer who knows what she’s talking about.” — Perpetual Folly

Despite the similarity of setting, each story feels distinct and fresh, written with a keen understanding of how the political impacts the personal at every level of a society, whether the characters are poets or revolutionaries or children. New Pages

Xujun combines the ability to weave complex short stories with grand themes, filled with interesting characters that the reader wishes wouldn’t depart at the end of each story. Waiguoren Critic of South China

Additional information

Dimensions 129 × 198 mm




About the author

Xujun Eberlein grew up in Chongqing, China, and moved to the United States in the summer of 1988. After receiving a Ph.D. from MIT in the spring of 1995, and winning an award for her dissertation, she joined a small but ambitious high tech company. On Thanksgiving 2003, she gave up algorithms for writing. She has since won a bunch of literary awards. Her stories and personal essays have been published in the United States, Canada, England, Kenya, and Hong Kong, in magazines such as AGNI, Walrus, PRISM International, StoryQuarterly, Stand and Kwani.

Her debut story collection Apologies Forthcoming won the third Tartt Fiction Award. She was recently awarded an artist fellowship in fiction/creative nonfiction by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.