Book cover of Mao's Kisses

Alex Kuo

Redbat Books, 2019


Deng Xiaoping learned to play bridge in the early 1950s. Little did he realize that appropriating state transportation to take him and his team to tournaments would result in the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and his being transported far from Beijing for reeducation through manual labor.

But Deng wasn’t just a Goren Prize-winning bridge player. He was, after his rehabilitation, China’s paramount leader during a time of civil crisis. The spring of 1989 brought a series of mass demonstrations that resulted in a declaration of martial law—and Tank Man standing down a row of tanks leaving Tiananmen Square the morning after.

Kuo’s latest novel dives down a rabbit hole, sifting through redacted archival materials and interviews WSU emeritus English professor Kuo conducted over many visits to China, to produce—according to the book’s official description—a narrative of “another muddled episode in China’s history.”

The narrator is G—named G at birth in homage to Kafka—himself a strong bridge player and, after he meets Deng at a tournament, the leader’s note taker. While not for the casual reader, Kuo’s novel is rewarding for students of Chinese history and anyone interested in the ebb and flow of social justice movements.