This sparkling little book is the memoir of an older man who is put through the horrors of Mao's China, of the re-education of intellectuals and children of intellectuals. In the darkest places, where poverty, back breaking work and punishment by the stern eyes of a Communist revolution prevail.. there is this story. Sly wit and humor color the grim background of a world that is without color or laughter or human connection, where even the biological is under control. Despots can torture, starve and use physical punishment with humans and thus control them, but the worst thing that these governments can do is to crush the human intellect. This book teaches us that art itself can enhance the human condition, that it bypasses all governments, all regimes and all class systems. The words that built our civilization are thus the salvation of the people who have been denied their power in this book. The young men are starved for the books and learning that was blocked by the governing powers, and have uncanny gifts for storytelling that pierce even the most heinous of their oppressors. They are sent to a nearby town to watch films and then are bade to come back and retell the story to an eager audience. As they haul excrement up and down a mountain, they are beguiled by an intellectual who is seeking power with the Communist Party, and he is hiding a secret. He has books. Books translated from the West, and the priceless words become their bargaining tool. They use the books to procure favour, to seek the love of a beautiful underclass girl who they try to mold into an acceptable marriage partner for one of the young men, although both love her. The young woman hears the stories and the change becomes even more apparent, as she does not docilely become a perfect partner, but the words then transform her into a person seeking freedom. Freedom of intellect and position and a desire to change her entire being. She quotes Balzac at the end to her confused lover, and says, " A woman's beauty is a treasure beyond price". One could suppose that perhaps this is a superficial motive on her part, but the point of the story is that she is not going to exploit her beauty, but enhance it. With her imagination, her love of art, she is deepening her possibilities and her existence. When you crush the human soul and deny it beauty, then it reaches out for it, even in the most odd circumstances, and in the worst of times.